You can never really expect tragedy- when it will hit, what it will take. You can’t ever know if it might be the last time you see somebody you love. Just recently, the world lost Robin Williams, a truly incredible individual whose many roles helped shape my generation’s childhood. Robin was a comedian, a gifted actor, and the best god damn Peter Pan we’ll get in this lifetime. I think Pan would agree with me that never is there a more appropriate time to say that heroes get remembered, but legends never die. The characters of these two combined weeks of novels live lives that also revolve around tragedy, and how the things you expect to last forever can be wiped away in an instant. While one novel explores the devastating effects of losing a loved one, the other points out just how lucky we are to live at all. These books enjoy a multitude of similar characteristics- but most obviously, they are written by the same author.
Everything is Illuminated
Reading order aside, I think it seems more fitting to tackle these books in the order that they were written. Foer’s debut novel is Everything is Illuminated, a break-out hit that turned into a movie a few years later starring Elijah Wood. The motion of the novel is led by main characters Jonathan Safran Foer, also known as “The Jew” (I wonder if naming the main character after yourself is just a debut-novel thing), and his Ukrainian-native translator Alex. Jonathan is an aspiring American author (what a coincidence!) who is on a journey to find out more about his past; specifically, to find his great² grandmother and thank her for saving his family from the Nazi invasion in World War II.
“Everything is the way it is because everything was the way it was.”
The great cultural misunderstanding that ensues between the American and the Soviet makes for some pretty hilarious dialogue, but in my opinion, comes off as a bit overcooked. Basically, the entire book is written as if the author wrote it with an encyclopedia sitting open on the desk, while vowing to select a word similar to the one an American would actually use in that context (I’m actually about 90% sure this is what happened). This minor annoyance coupled with the constant jumping from present tense, to past tense, to nonsense, made me feel that Everything is Illuminated had everything a bit pretentious.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Fortunately, that was not the Foer novel I decided to read first. Jonathan Safran Foer’s second attempt, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, was also made into a movie- and I think this one was far more deserving of it. Oskar Schell is unlike any 9-year-old you’ve ever met. Okay, so most 9-year-olds are slightly annoying and too smart for their own good, but Oskar is a step above. He is different; extremely intelligent and incredibly unique in the sense that he probably knows more random facts than anyone else, regardless of age (it seemed fitting to describe him using his two favorite adjectives). Throughout the novel, Oskar is struggling with the emotional trauma of losing his father to the September 11th attacks, and living with the secret of his father’s last words in order to protect his loved ones.
“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”
His father’s last words are not the only thing he left behind, however. One night Oskar finds a key that belongs to his father, and embarks on a quest to find what it unlocks, and along the way he meets some fascinating people that help unlock some of the pain he is holding inside himself. Oskar was an incredible character, but for me, the real respect I hold for this book comes from the parallel story about Oskar’s grandmother, written to Oskar in the form of letters. While all of the grandmother’s letters appear to be metaphorical, the stories reflect their characters’ inability to connect to the ones they love, the greatest barrier in overcoming their grief. Overall, I think that Foer embraced his forte for colorful language and intertwining stories a great deal better in this novel, with characters young and old that, alongside death, found beauty in life.
Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Next week I have a review of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien for all the little people out there. Stay tuned!