Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Oskar Schell is a 9 year-old boy who lost his father to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 two years before the story starts. He finds a mysterious key hidden in an envelope inside a vase on the top of his father’s closet. This book follows his journey all over New York City to discover the lock that matches this key and find out how it relates to his father. Along his way he discovers a lot about new interesting people, his family, and himself. This is a powerful story for its honest and compelling tone and narration by Oskar. Foer flawlessly communicates what it feels like to grieve and to love.
Oskar Schell is a unique narrator. He is naive and ignorant of many realities due to his age and yet he has a brilliant mind. His way of perceiving the world is creative and fresh. He constantly imagines new inventions and uses for things that I would never consider. Oskar is extremely troubled due to his father’s death and seems to use this obsession with inventions and solving puzzles to ignore the issues in his life.
“In bed that night I invented a special drain that would be underneath every pillow in New York, and would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go to the same place, and in the morning the weather could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down, and you could know if New York was in heavy boots. And when something really terrible happened – like a nuclear bomb, or at least a biological weapons attack – an extremely loud siren would go off, telling everyone to get to Central Park to put sandbags around the reservoir.”
Oskar is very emotional and at times is openly hostile. He sees a psychiatrist but doesn’t seem to be very receptive to treatment. Since his father’s death he has obsessed over world disasters and incidences of gruesome deaths. He cuts out magazine clippings and pictures of these horrific events and pastes them in a journal titled “Stuff That Happened To Me”. Furthermore, Oskar wears only white and gives himself bruises when he is feeling down. When he experiences negative emotions he says that his “boots feel heavier”. Despite his troubles, Oskar is a very special child with numerous interests. He frequently writes letters to scientists and other noteworthy figures that he admires. He sometimes will send them his business card describing his many talents. Oskar’s tale is sad, but also inspiring and offers us a fascinating perspective.
Oskar treasured time with his father greatly. Since his father is dead we only can meet him through few and brief positive memories that Oskar has of him. Oskar’s father would tell him elaborate stories, spend time correcting the New York Times paper, and give Oskar puzzles to solve. They engaged in stimulating conversation and Oskar’s father encouraged Oskar to really think about the world around him. We only encounter Oskar’s mother after his father has died and they have a very strained relationship due their grief. Oskar is bitter that his mother survived instead of his father and has trouble understanding why she is trying to move on with life two years following his dad’s death.
Oskar’s paternal grandparents
These were my favorite characters and the most interesting parts of the novel for me. Oskar’s grandmother lives in the building next door and she is an instrumental character who provides support to Oskar during this difficult time. However, she is also experiencing extreme grief since her son died. We learn about Oskar’s grandfather through his grandma’s memories and through letters, since he left before Oskar’s dad was born. His story is one of devastation and grief and at times is heartbreaking. It is the most interesting part of the novel for me because of how the emotion is expressed. Oskar’s grandfather stopped speaking following trauma, so all of his communication is through words written on a notepad. At times his story is expressed through pictures and letters that he never sent. We learn that the he had very complex reasons for leaving. It was never an easy decision for him, but the impact of his departure upon Oskar’s grandmother was huge. It is very interesting to see both sides of the story and learn more about their strange relationship that was dominated by rules and pretending to ignore past events.
I really enjoyed Foer’s writing style. It was honest, emotionally raw, and extremely touching. However, this is not merely a book about grief. Foer masterfully crafted the novel with elaborate characters and plot. Furthermore, he used artistic styles to add to the literary element by enhancing the story and perspective with pictures and small segments of text. He knows how to craft text to emphasize emotion and does so very well. At times the narration takes on a stream-of-consciousness feeling to better allow us to understand the feelings and mindset of the characters. The book flowed very well and made me keep reading until I finished it. Finally, he ends the book with a flip-book which is a fitting end to an artistic literary novel. I plan on reading Foer’s earlier novel that first gained attention, Everything Is Illuminated, to see how the books compare.
Translation: Go out and buy it already!
There certainly are critics of this book, but I loved it and highly recommend it to others. It definitely isn’t your average book and I think you’ll enjoy it.
See another post I made as a reading update about this book for additional quotes and information.
Here is the trailer for the movie adaptation that will be coming out in December. I’m interested to see how they convey the style and emotion of Foer’s book in a movie. I’m hoping they will do the book justice, but I already have some concerns just from the trailer. Why does Oskar not wear white clothing? Also, they make the father-son relationship seem much more idealistic than Foer described. They even added inspirational quotes from Oskar’s father which never appeared in the book. Most importantly, where are Oskar’s grandparents? I really, really hope they didn’t cut my favorite part of the book. Either way, I’ll be seeing the movie in December and posting a review to let you now what I thought.