*This review does have minor spoilers–it would be difficult to give this book a good review without mentioning certain things / people.*
Synopsis: “Jonathan Safran Foer emerged as one of the most original writers of his generation with his best-selling debut novel, Everything Is Illuminated. Now, with humor, tenderness, and awe, he confronts the traumas of our recent history.
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.”
Review: This book really surprised me. I went into it thinking I was going to be reading a story about Oskar and his journey through grieving for his father, but it was so much more than that.
The first thing I liked about this book was Foer’s writing style. His use of pictures, white space, italics, etc., made for an interesting and new type of reading experience. The book was also broken down into three different narratives–Oskar’s, his grandmother’s, and his grandfather’s. Oskar’s story is told in the third person present tense, while the grandparent’s stories are told through letters that they’ve written. I really felt that the multiple narrations helped get across Foer’s point of how trauma and tragedy affect people, and how different people cope in different ways.
The way that he intertwined all three narratives created a connectedness between the characters that I don’t feel like would have been there if the story was told only through Oskar’s eyes. The fact that the readers get an insight into the grandfather’s head especially helps us to understand why he did certain things, because if we didn’t have his thoughts I believe he would come across as a very unlikable character because of his actions.
“Why didn’t I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.”
Another thing I found very interesting about this novel was that the main character, Oskar, is a little different than the average narrator. It is not blatantly stated, but it is clear that Oskar lies somewhere on the autism spectrum. He is extremely smart with sciences and maths in school, but he lacks very basic people skills and coping mechanisms, so when his father passes away in 9/11, he doesn’t know how to deal with that loss. Oskar’s character reminds me of Christopher Boone from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time because he is also a young, autistic main character.
Now, as a person who lost her father at the same age as Oskar did, I loved the way Foer explored how the loss of a parent can affect a child. However, I didn’t think it was the most important part of the novel. Oskar’s story was definitely one that needed to be written because so many people felt the way he did after losing loved ones in the tragedy of 9/11, but I personally think that the letters and experiences of the grandparents were better at showing how loss and trauma can affect someone for the rest of their lives. Also I thought they were much more interesting than Oskar’s search around New York for the lock.
All in all, I think this novel did a wonderful job with examining tragedies and loss within people, but I personally would have wanted the main storyline to have followed the grandparents a little more than Oskar.