Oskar’s Heavy Boots

9/11 Memorial

In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer tells the story of a young boy named Oskar who is on a quest to come to terms with the sudden death of his father in the 9/11 attacks. While rummaging through his father’s belongings a few days after the tragic events of that day, he finds a mysterious key inside a vase. Determined to find the lock that it belongs to, he travels around all of New York city in search of closure.  Foer captures the voice of a nine year old boy perfectly. We are immediately attached to him and his terrible loss and spend the rest of the book hoping that he succeeds in his journey.


EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE
By Jonathan Safran Foer
368 pp. Mariner Books $25

September 11th was not the only tragedy that was covered in this book. A generation earlier, Oskar’s grandfather survived the Bombing of Dresden. While he walked away with his life, he chose to live his life as a victim rather than a survivor. He leaves Oskar’s grandmother abruptly, loses the ability to speak, and spends many years writing letters to his son (Oskar’s father) which he never delivers before his death.

The book consists of intertwined segments. The main story is pushed along via Oskar’s narration. Pieces of the past are presented in the form of letters from his Grandparents. It explores a wide range of emotions including tragedy, loss, love and regret.

I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live, Oskar. Because if I were able to live my life again, I would do things differently.

Oskar slowly finds a way to cope with his fathers death. Throughout his journey he comes up with many provocative metaphors. The one that stood out the most to me was comparing life to a building on fire.

Everything that’s born has to die, which means our lives are like skyscrapers. The smoke rises at different speeds, but they’re all on fire, and we’re all trapped.

It’s difficult to read this book even a decade after the terrible events of that day. Those of us who were witnesses were changed forever in one way or another. An entire generation has now grown up viewing life from the lens of everything that happened before 9/11 and everything that has happened after.

We are quickly approaching a date where everyone under the age of 18 will have been born after September 11, 2001. I imagine they will grow up to view this day similar to how people in their 30’s and 40’s think about Pearl Harbor or the bombing of Hiroshima; a terrible event that happened long ago but has little emotional connection to every day reality. Historical fiction books are important in this regard. Unlike the non-fiction books that tell an objective story with facts, figures, and death tolls, fiction allows us to view the event from the perspective of a real human being. We feel something more than shock. We learn something more than a statistic or a timeline of events.

I thought if everyone could see what I saw, we would never have war anymore.

This book does not have a happy ending. We walk away feeling the same hopelessness and loss that Oskar does. Our boots become very heavy. The next 9/11, Hiroshima, Bombing of Dresden, Rape of Nanking, or < INSERT NAME OF TRAGEDY HERE >, is potentially days away. I would love to live in a world where books like this one were pure fiction, instead of based on a true story.

 

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