Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Title: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer 
Genre: Comtemporary
Release Date: March 7, 2005
This edition: 2006
Publisher: Penguin UK
Format: Paperback
Pages: 326
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from September 5 to 7, 2012
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! + Favorite
Summary: Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is on a mission to find the lock that matches a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. An inspired innocent, Oskar is alternately endearing, exasperating, and hilarious as he careens from Central Park to Coney Island to Harlem on his search. As he roams the five boroughs, Oskar encounters a motley assortment of people who are all survivors in their own way. His journey concludes in an emotional climax of truth, beauty, and heartbreak.

Gosh, this is so hard. You have no idea how many times I have tried/re-written to make this review as perfect as it can be, and I hope that it is now. Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is my most favorite book in all history of time, so I wanted to do it justice. Yes, it did break my heart, every moment of every day, into more pieces than my heart was made of, during the 3 days I was reading this heart-wrenching masterpiece. I love it so, so, so much that mere attempts at explaining just how much would be an insult to my true feelings, and that I have to own two copies, different editions, of this book. Let me warn you first, this review isn't going to tell you much about the story, in fact, it's going to tell you what this book means to me personally.

I finished Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on September 7th. And I mean thoroughly finished. I'd read it a lot of times before, but had never got to finish it (partly because I'd loved it so much that I hadn't wanted it to end for me). I started reading again on September 5th, and I finished two days later. I must’ve been reading for four hours on end that day, because I got home around 4 pm, and when I finished I looked at the clock and it was 10 minutes to 8 pm. I looked at it with dry tears on both of my cheeks. And I realized there were also teardrops on my knees. Thank God it wasn't on the precious book. And to be honest, it didn’t even feel like 4 hours at all. I didn’t even remember turning pages. Everything went by really fast, and I was absorbing everything. 

I can relate to a lot of plots and themes in the book. That’s why I loved it then in the first place. And once I finished reading it, I was sure I couldn't love it more. I love it as much as a reader can possibly love a book, and I adore Jonathan Safran Foer as much as it is possible for an aspiring writer to adore his/her idol. Extremely Loud is my number one favorite book ever, no doubt about that. I am completely convinced it's the best thing that has ever happened to my bookshelf. Overstatement? I don't think so. I'm going to tell you why. 

First off, although this book is told in the voices of three people, it is Oskar's story that relates so much to my life, to the point of choking me with memories and feelings. Extremely Loud revolves mainly around Oskar Schell, a child who's lost a father. I am also a child who lost a father. And there are a lot of other things that I don’t think normal people would understand unless they have lost someone, or say, a father, like Oskar and I both have. The feelings and thoughts inside Oskar's head that Foer wrote so heart-wrenchingly were like buckets of ice being thrown at me in the middle of the coldest winter days. I was like, Ouch, Yes!, or sobbing all the time. It brought back my old memories of my dad and I was so pained that I felt alive. How could a 9-year-old say things that I could only keep shut behind the wall of my heart? The answer is just because. There's blissful innocence in the voice of this amazing 9-year-old that unleashed the bitterness inside of me, that untangled the knotted feelings I kept hidden so well, unspoken. One obvious example would be how Oskar resents his mom for being happy. I resented my mom when she seemed happy, too, back then. I thought it was an act of insulting Dad's memory. And I'm sure Oskar feels the same when this dialogue happened:
"I miss Dad." "So do I." "Do you?" "Of course I do." "But do you really?" "How could you ask that?" "It's just that you don't act like you miss him very much." "What are you talking about?" "I think you know what I'm talking about." "I don't." "I hear you laughing." "You hear me laughing?" "In the living room. With Ron." "You think because I laugh every now and then I don't miss Dad?" 
She said, “I’m trying to find ways to be happy. Laughing makes me happy.” I said, “I’m not trying to find ways to be happy, and I won’t.” She said, “Well, you should.” “Why?” “Because Dad would want you to he happy.” “Dad would want me to remember him.”
I don't know about any of you, but for me, this dialogue reached in and took out my heart, ripped it apart, threw it on the floor, and stomped, stomped, stomped on what was left of it. That slow, penetrating pain. I cried like there was no tomorrow, because this had also happened to my mom and me. When I read the voice mails part, I cried some more. This book murdered me. When Oskar talks about his dad, Thomas Schell junior, I felt like he was talking about mine too. Our dads were so much alike. They liked to go on about things, saying random, knowledgeable stuff. The difference is that mine wasn't German-American, and mine wasn’t in the World Trade Center that 9/11. When Oskar misses his dad, I missed mine so terribly. When Oskar cries, hell yes I cried my eyes out with him. (Well to be honest I cried most of the time). This book. It gets me. So, so, so much. It expresses things I don’t tell anyone. It expresses me. It expresses those of us who's lost a parent or someone so close and significant to our lives and wanted to embrace and  hold on to what's left of their memories.

For another thing, beauty emanates from every word that Foer wrote. The writing is gorgeous. His prose is poetic, and meaningful, and touching, and perfect. It made me fall in love even harder with this book, if that was even possible. There are always killer lines like this: 
Does it break my heart, of course, every moment of every day, into more pieces than my heart was made of, I never thought of myself as quiet, much less silent, I never thought about things at all, everything changed, the distance that wedged itself between me and my happiness wasn’t the world, it wasn’t the bombs and burning buildings, it was me, my thinking, the cancer of never letting go, is ignorance bliss, I don’t know, but it’s so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.
 Or this: 
She wants to know if I love her, that’s all anyone wants from anyone else, not love itself but the knowledge that love is there, like new batteries in the flashlight in the emergency kit in the hall closet.
Gosh. This is beauty. His writing hit my cardiac veins and arteries all at the same time, making it hard to not appreciate it and cry some more. Never before have I enjoyed someone's writing so immensely. It flows and flows and flows. I want to be able to write like that, to express my thoughts and feelings in words that truly capture them, the way Foer does in this very book. This is precisely why I idolize him so much. 

Lastly, I love that this book is about love and loss. I like love and loss in novels, because they break my heart. I love having my heart broken and wrenched and trampled on by books, because that just goes to show how amazing those books are. This book tortured my heart again and again in the most pleasurable ways possible. And I couldn't get enough. I always came back for more, re-reading, again and again and again. Oskar's story is about holding on to that loved one, even when he's gone, refusing to let go. Thomas Schell senior's letters are filled with the love for the son he has abandoned and never got to know, forever lost to him, telling Oskar's dad his life story of love and loss in the horrible time of WWII. And Oskar's grandmother --no name given-- writes her letters to her only grandson, the one she loves most dearly, telling her own sides of lost love and life loss, and always saying something like, I hope you never love anything as much as I love you. This book shows me many aspects of love, and how destructive loss can be, something I already know very well. Still, it's nice to see that other people get it too. 

One of the things I learned and will forever cherish is the fact that it is always necessary to tell someone you love them. Speak now. Don't be afraid. I've seen how things couldn't be undone, or done, when it's too late. Forget about the idea of perfect occasions, because it may never come when there's still time. 
We slept in the same bed.

There was never a right time to say it.
It was always unnecessary.
The books in my father’s shed were sighing.
The sheets were rising and falling around me with Anna’s breathing.
I thought about waking her,
but it was unnecessary.
There would be other nights.
And how can you say I love you to someone you love?
I rolled onto my side and fell asleep next to her.
Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you…
It is always necessary.
I love you.
I will never ask for a more perfect book, merely because I know there never was/is/will be another one for me. I’m running out of words. I don’t know what else to say. Only that this book means much more to me than anyone would understand. It breaks my heart over and over, in a good way. It's the one book I will always be glad to give my whole heart to, and get it shattered by, because I know it's well worth it. And I also have two copies of this book. 

I'm definitely going to try re-reading this book every May, in remembrance of my father. It's nice to curl up in bed and read a book that allows you to remember all the good things.

Love, love, love. So much love for this one.


This review is also posted on Goodreads.

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