12 July 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" - Jonathan Safran Foer

photo source: [amazon.de]
The second novel by acclaimed author Jonathan Safran Foer of “Everything Is Illuminated” fame tells the story of 9-year-old Oskar Schell wanting to find out a secret his father left behind after dying in the tragic events of 9/11. It’s a book about the effects of the death of a loving father on his son, but also about the effects of the birth of the very same man on his parents, 40 years before, and their stories.

The novel starts out with some heartwarming scenes explaining the loving relationship between father and son which the son thinks about a few years after his father’s death. His memories are caused after finding a key in his dad’s old stuff with the name Black on it. He decides to go meet every single person with the surname Black in New York in their apartments and ask them if it was theirs. He regards this mission as his father’s last will and in his subconscious this project helps him get closer to his dad and not have to admit that his father is no more with him.

In the meantime, we get to read a letter by Mr. Schell’s mute turned father to his unborn son, some 40 years before the key-event, and in addition to that a letter by Mr. Schell’s mother to her grandson. Both are war refugees originally from Dresden and we get to know their tragic and extremely moving stories in these very personally written parts.

All in all, Foer manages to make the stories of the three main characters quite engaging and touching. However, whereas the story of all New York’s Blacks seems somehow unrealistic at some point and, even more, a bit useless and over the top, as it has no positive effects on anyone, the grandparents’ letters (especially the ones telling the grandfather’s youth and early adulthood) appear to be quite overwhelming. Their letters are very honest and the content is quite extraordinary and therefore highly interesting and captivating.

I liked the language Foer uses for the respective characters very much as this style of writing is quite special. Little Oskar has a very entertaining and amusing attitude and the language he uses suits this attitude perfectly. The grandfather often has to speak through written words as he is mute and so what he writes is even more important, for him as well as for us to read. The grandmother’s story is calmly written and not as eventful as the rest of the novel’s contents, but the more heartfelt and touching.

As a conclusion, I think the book could have turned out even better with Oskar’s story a bit more realistic and the ending more inventive, but even so, all the three stories about becoming an orphan, being a refugee in war and handling an unfulfilled marriage are extremely moving & incredibly close.

P.S. Let’s hope that the movie releasing next year with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock as Mr. & Mrs. Schell in the leading roles will be a truthful attempt to picturize a novel that is driven by such strong feelings.

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