Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

I wanted to see this movie since I saw the first preview, but never did.  I found the book in a secondhand store and decided it would probably be a better read anyway, and it sat for months.  Finally I’ve read it, and I’m sure the movie is good, but aren’t the books always better?  I have my own image of Oskar, his family, the friends he meets and places he goes all floating in my imagination, and no matter how good the movie is, it can’t beat my own inventions of the characters.

Oskar is a nine year-old boy who lost his father two years ago in the World Trade Center on 9-11.  He has a brilliant imagination, but struggles so much from the sudden loss of his best friend and dad, Thomas.  The book triangulates between Oskar’s adventure of finding the lock to match a key he found in a new vase his father had hidden in his room, and letters from Oskar’s grandpa to his son (Oskar’s dad), and letters from Oskar’s grandma to Oskar.

Oskar’s grandparents grew up in Dresden, which was bombed in WWII while they were growing up.  Oskar’s grandpa, Thomas Sr., was in love with Anna (Oskar’s grandma’s sister) and she died in the bombing.  Thomas Sr. was devastated by the loss and happened to bump into her sister years later when they both moved to New York City.  They married and settled down, but both struggled with the loss of Anna.  Soon, Thomas Sr. decided to leave as he felt he wasn’t living or loving as he wished he could, but just before he left his wife confessed she was pregnant.  Thomas Sr was torn, but wrote letters to his unborn son every day, and continued to do so to the day he found out his son died decades later.

The key Oskar found was in an envelope that had the word ‘Black’ written on it in red ink, which led Oskar to believe it was a name, not a color.  He embarked on a journey to find every person in the phone book named ‘Black’ and ask them if they knew what the key was for.  He met many nice people along the way.  A favorite character of mine was A. R. Black, a 103 year-old man who happened to live in the apartment above Oskar.  He was a war correspondent and traveled extensively to cover news of the wars through the years.  He collected many things and had a passion for life.  He was once engaged to F Scott Fitzgerald’s sister.  Mr. Black and Oskar became close and they went together for months searching for the other ‘Blacks’.

The book has many clues throughout it, and many connections between characters and events, so it makes it a little difficult to write about without giving much away.  I liked that.  I think mourning and dealing with the loss of loved ones ties everything together.  Thomas Sr. wandered around lost, trying to get on with life after he lost Anna, but never settling kept him from ever knowing his son.  Oskar was also wandering around New York searching for the lock that matched his key, as a way of finding closure from losing his father. We might never understand why people are taken from our lives, why they die, or why they leave, but the book does a good job of looking into it, and showing the different perspectives.

Rating: *********9/10

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