Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Book I Read: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It has been a while since I've offered a book review/book report here. It's not that I haven't been reading; I just haven't run across anything remarkable enough to be worthy of mention here in a while. Or maybe I haven't done so at a time when I felt like writing at length. Besides, if all I posted about was the books I've read, this site could get boring. Quickly.

I've just finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer. I think this one is worth a mention.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a novel set in present-day New York City. The protagonist is a nine-year-old boy who lost his father in the fall of the World Trade Center on 9/11. The novel follows his quest to illuminate his father's memory and, although unwittingly, to discover his family history.

This is a wonderful book. Foer offers a free look at Chapter 1, as a PDF file, on his web site. Have a look, I think you'll see the charm.

I was struck by the echoes of The Tin Drum, a disturbing novel of World War Two published in 1959 by the German author Gunter Grass. There was also a movie version in 1979.

I read The Tin Drum a year or so before the movie came out, while I was in High School. It was one of the books that really conked me at that point in my life. It helped confirm me as a lifelong reader.

The echoes?

In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the boy's name is Oskar Schell. The child in The Tin Drum is Oskar Matzerath.

Oskar Schell obsessively plays a tambourine. Oskar Matzerath plays a child's tin drum. Both kids exhibit a variety of obsessive/compulsive behaviors.

In both books, the reader is witness to some of the major human tragedies of the 20th and 21st centuries. Both books tie tragedies in their present settings to tragedies in history and track families through human upheavals.

There are other echoes; these are the obvious, hit you over the head, ones.

At root, both books are about the effects of war and conflict on children, on families and on the innocent.

I recommend them both. I also think I will look for Foer's first book -- Everything Is Illuminated -- next time I'm in the library or bookstore.

For now, I'm just embarking on a pleasant trip to Botswana in the latest edition of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. Karen gave me a copy of In the Company of Cheerful Ladies for Father's Day.
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