It is 9/11 today and below is my review of a novel that shows the ongoing impact on one family while placing their loss in a wider, historical, human context.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – by Jonathan Safran Foer
Foer writes like an angel – or rather a cherub, since his protagonist is a 9 year old boy. Oskar’s father died on 9/11 and in an effort to deal with his loss, Oskar embarks on an odyssey through New York, trying to find the lock that belongs to a key his father left. His research reveals that there are 162 million locks in New York, but he has a name which narrows the search down to possible. As Oskar progresses, we are also shown more and more of the continuing effect on his grandparents of the bombing of Dresden in 1945.
We may count, or fail to count, the numbers involved in the big events history records, but each one is made up of innumerable individual tragedies. This family has suffered twice, and what we see in the juxtaposition of old and new grief is that the effects last a lifetime. However hard they try, those left behind cannot let go.
We see largely through Oskar’s eyes and hear his voice, so the characters are at first sight cartoonish, but as Foer stands them in the light we see more and more of their complexity. Particularly poignant is his portrayal of Oskar’s mother, who is not fully revealed until the end of the book, but it is Oskar himself who resonates with truth.
The reader does not have to ask or answer difficult questions about historical perspective or ethical slights of hand. We are simply placed inside the family, incredibly close, and suffer the fall out with them, which is extremely loud. This is a book about grief and while you will meet enchanting characters, be stunned by the quality of the writing and laugh along the way, if you survive to the end you will be beyond tears.