Oskar Schell is a nine-year-old with a resume full of professions: vegan, historian, entomologist and more. He finds a key in his father’s closet a year after his death in 9/11 and uses his detective skills to explore the five boroughs and track down the lock that fits the key. He throws himself into the lives of strangers and uncovers the strangeness of his family’s own history.
I read this book in a couple of days at the beach, and while it isn’t light reading, the novel is definitely one I couldn’t bear to put down for long.
It alternates between Oskar’s life and the life of his grandparents, circling a WWII bombing in Dresden and their marriage. The perspectives make the writing style very unique. It’s written in a literary fashion, but the main character being only nine and having the book geared toward an older audience really made it stick out. From childish lies and reasoning to the absolute pain he felt after the death of his dad, the author does a brilliant job of making the reader feel every emotion and understand Oskar’s motives.
The life of his grandparents took on a more abstract style, focusing on words and regrets and the pain of losing loved ones. I especially enjoyed reading the letters of his grandfather because Foer used both the power behind his writing and the concrete text itself to demonstrate his emotions. This portion of the novel didn’t focus so much on events but instead brought his feelings and thoughts, no matter how whimsical, to the forefront. He had pages with red circling on certain words and pages with one sentence or word. A passage that really got me was one of his final letters to his son, Oskar’s dad, in which the words got closer and closer with no paragraph breaks or anything until the reader couldn’t even make out the letters. I don’t know, for some reason I just thought it was really beautiful because it showed how overwhelming words can be.
The book itself wasn’t overtly sad, but I think it just showcased the everyday sadness of life. Like how Oskar’s mom was trying to have friends again and smile while Oskar battled depression and his grandma constantly said I love you and worried about where he was. It showed the struggles of losing a loved one, especially in such a terrible and unexpected way, and I think one of the take-aways from the story would be to remind each other that you love one another. Which is super cheesy and cliche but it’s true. The whole you-never-know-what-day-will-be-your-last type thing.
So, yes, it’s not a happy book but I don’t think that should be a reason not to read it. It brings up a lot of questions and moral discussions to think about. It’s a book that you can’t read in one sitting because sometimes you have to put it down and let the words simmer for a bit. And it’s just a beautiful read overall.