Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – a Review

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer
Contemporary and/or Historical Fiction
Published by Mariner Books
Released April 4, 2006
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Note: This review was originally published on September 11, 2018. While I have made a few updates to formating and everything you see above this statement, everything that follows is the content in its original form from one year ago.

We were determined to ignore whatever needed to be ignored, to build a new world from nothing if nothing in our world could be salvaged.


What It Is

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is am an ambitious child, spending his time inventing, learning, acting, making jewelry, and more. After his father dies in one of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, Oskar feels a lot of different emotions: anger at his mother for seemingly moving on; fear of many things, from elevators to public transportation to bridges; empathy for the many people around him, like a homeless man he passes frequently on the street. He appears to be suffering from PTSD and insomnia after the tragic events that took his father, and he looks for ways to be close to his father once more.

One day while exploring through his father’s closet, he comes across a blue vase he’d never seen before. While reaching for it, his hand slips, and the vase falls to the floor, shattering. Among the broken glass, he discovers an envelope with the word “Black” written across the front of it. Opening the envelope, he finds a mysterious key.

The novel is the tale of Oskar searching for the lock, meeting new people along the way, and trying to find evidence of his father along the way. It’s a truly heartbreaking story and one that will stick with you long after you finish it.


What I Loved

The novel is written from three points-of-view, Oskar being one of them. I’m hesitant to say who the other narrators are because I feel it’s best to just let the story unfold for yourself. Foer does a wonderful job of making Oskar’s narration seem believable coming from a nine-year-old character. The book is also great for taking a terrible, tragic event, and dealing with it in a relatively light-hearted way, while still maintaining elements of tragedy and heartbreak.

This was also the first book I’ve read by Jonathan Safran Foer, and I was a huge fan of his writing style in this book. I’ll be reading Everything is Illuminated soon, I’m sure.


What I Disliked

When I first began the novel, I had a hard time relating to the main character, Oskar, because he seemed so annoying and unlikable to me. After the first hundred pages, however, he grew on me. I sort of believe my initial aversion to Oskar is simply based on the fact that I’m not a fan of child narrators.


Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)

Buy. It’s important to remind ourselves of the tragedies that occurred in New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. For many people, it’s easier to remember through fiction. This is definitely a book I’ll be reading again.

Click here to discover more books about September 11th, 2001




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Book Review: Tales from The Warming by Lorin R. Robinson

“Without taking her eyes off the emerald waters of the island’s central lagoon, she said: ‘This is unbearably lovely. What a tragedy that the people who contributed least to the causes of the warming are the ones who bear its greatest burdens.'”

The Book

Tales from The Warming: 10 Near-Future Stories Envisioning the Human Impact of the Climate Crisis by Lorin R. Robinson
Amazon | Goodreads 
Published by Open Books
Released April 20, 2017
Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter
I received a copy of this book from Open Books in exchange for an honest review.

What is it About?

Tales from The Warming is a collection of ten short stories that highlight the projected effects of climate change on our world. Each story takes place in the near future and is set in a particular location, starting with Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2022 and ending in Greenland in 2059. As Robinson writes in the forward,

“The stories in this collection are thought exercises in which I examine the human impact of the climate crisis. They are speculative fiction or, perhaps, they could be included in the recently named new genre – climate fiction.”

The stories are all vastly different, and cover subjects as diverse as human migration and climate refugees, to powerful cyclones, and self-sustaining engineering projects.

My Thoughts

As someone whose insomnia is caused, in part, due to the melting ice caps, the amount of plastic in the ocean, and sea level rise, I loved the idea for this book. I feel that one of the best ways to get people to care about climate change is to give them real-life examples of the consequences of dragging our feet on this issue, and that’s exactly what Robinson has done.

Each story is so different that I thought I’d share a few brief thoughts on each one:

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Mt. Kilimanjaro
  • Kilimanjaro, February 2022 – Kent Whitaker is a journalist for the Environmental News Network and climbs Mt Kilimanjaro in order to do a segment on what’s left of the famous snows of Kilimanjaro. I enjoyed this one, heartbreaking though it was. The thing is, this is actually projected to happen. A part of the reason I loved it so much is that I’ve always been a fan of stories about mountain climbing.
  • Exodus, Polynesia 2027 – This tale of an island’s population making the decision to leave their ancestral home due to rising sea level was fascinating. Climate change refugees are inevitable, and this seemed like one of the most realistic stories in this collection.
  • The Perfect Storm, Bangladesh, 2029 – A poor family in Bangladesh ride out a massive cyclone in an old boat they found. The imagery is horrific; homes being washed away in the deadly flooding, bodies caught up on trees, entire communities gone.
venice
The Canals of Venice
  • Francesca and Paulo, Venice, 2032 – This was the only story in the book that I didn’t finish – I just sort of skimmed from the middle to the end of it. For some reason, I wasn’t able to relate to the characters, and although it’s a shame that Venice really is sinking, this story didn’t affect me in the same ways that the others did.
  • Smiley’s People, China, 2036 – Ahlim is a woman whose brother died from the pollution spewed out from their town’s coal-fired power plant, and she wants revenge. She joins an underground activist group and travels to that same plant to destroy it. While an enjoyable story, I wished it had been a little bit longer in order to give more space to Ahlim’s moral choices that she has to face in this sort of eco-activism/terrorism.
  • Deepest and Darkest, South Sudan, 2039 – This story is a tragedy. It takes place in South Sudan, a nation of hostilities and genocide. The main character, Dr. Bertrand, is part of Doctors Without Borders and travels to South Sudan in order to help run an understaffed clinic. Places like this are becoming rare, as the United Nations is running out of both resources and money as the effects of climate change force nations to look inward, and peacekeepers have started being killed. One night, the clinic is attacked and Dr. Bertrand flees with one of the other volunteers, along with three children who were being treated there.

    “How many generations will be able to retain their traditional way of life in the face of the south-bound march of the Sahara and the desertification that will make obsolete the term ‘Sub-Saharan?'”

steele-rutherford-725182-unsplash
Miami
  • Tale of Two Cities, Miami and New Orleans, 2045 – Following a team of meteorologists as they track a dangerous category 5 hurricane heading towards Florida, this is a story that feels all too pertinent, especially right after Hurricane Florence dealt a great deal of damage to North Carolina. I actually started reading this story as my city was thankfully just missed by that particular storm. One of the characters in the story is a little awkward: Charlie Santore, a bald storm-chaser adored by viewers; it feels like Robinson was basing this character on The Weather Channel‘s Jim Cantore, a much more likable personality than the story’s Charlie Santore. Another quick note about this story is that it really doesn’t spend much time in New Orleans, which is great for the fictional people that live there and escape the brunt of the storm, but the end of this story was a little bit boring.
  • Escape from L.A., California, 2047 – I hated this story and found it to be really ridiculous. Aside from the narrator of the story being immensely unlikeable, here’s the main reason: Jeff Grant, a geologist, is driving his previous night’s one-night stand to the airport when an incredibly large earthquake strikes the area. In order to escape, the two of them somehow have time to make it to an airport, steal a plane, and fly to Las Vegas. What? Exactly. Also, the scene where Jeff and his lover meet felt like one of the most cliche things I’ve read in ages. The bad action movie scenes made this particular story difficult to read.
  • Cousteau City, Umm al-Quwain, 2051 – This is another story featuring journalist Kent Whitaker, this time doing his last assignment piece at an underwater marine research facility near Dubai. I really enjoyed this story, primarily because I adore the idea of self-sustaining and futuristic engineering projects.
  • Starting Over, Greenland, 2059 – The final story in this collection is about a family of mid-western American farmers who emigrate to a warmed Greenland, which has started offering free land to farmers. It’s interesting to think about human migration in the face of climate change, so I enjoyed reading this one.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection and appreciated that Robinson obviously spent a great deal of time doing research for each of the stories.

It would have been cool to see the stories be a little more intertwined, sort of like we did with Kent Whitaker. Since the stories take place in chronological order, I feel like it would have been easy to do so.

Verdict

I decided to give this book of short stories four out of five stars, despite being tempted to rate it three stars due to the earthquake in California story. It is an important book in terms of promoting action against climate change, and for that alone, I would recommend it to anyone.

About the Author

Lorin R. Robinson is a journalist and educator with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. His latest book, The 13: Ashi-niswi, is a historical fiction novel based on Native American roots.

Book Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

We were determined to ignore whatever needed to be ignored, to build a new world from nothing if nothing in our world could be salvaged.

The Book
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Goodreads

What It Is
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is am an ambitious child, spending his time inventing, learning, acting, making jewelry, and more. After his father dies in one of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, Oskar feels a lot of different emotions: anger at his mother for seemingly moving on; fear of many things, from elevators to public transportation to bridges; empathy for the many people around him, like a homeless man he passes frequently on the street. He appears to be suffering from PTSD and insomnia after the tragic events that took his father, and he looks for ways to be close to his father once more.

One day while exploring through his father’s closet, he comes across a blue vase he’d never seen before. While reaching for it, his hand slips, and the vase falls to the floor, shattering. Among the broken glass, he discovers an envelope with the word “Black” written across the front of it. Opening the envelope, he finds a mysterious key.

The novel is the tale of Oskar searching for the lock, meeting new people along the way, and trying to find evidence of his father along the way. It’s a truly heartbreaking story and one that will stick with you long after you finish it.

What I Loved
The novel is written from three points-of-view, Oskar being one of them. I’m hesitant to say who the other narrators are because I feel it’s best to just let the story unfold for yourself. Foer does a wonderful job of making Oskar’s narration seem believable coming from a nine-year-old character. The book is also great for taking a terrible, tragic event, and dealing with it in a relatively light-hearted way, while still maintaining elements of tragedy and heartbreak.

This was also the first book I’ve read by Jonathan Safran Foer, and I was a huge fan of his writing style in this book. I’ll be reading Everything is Illuminated soon, I’m sure.

What I Disliked
When I first began the novel, I had a hard time relating to the main character, Oskar, because he seemed so annoying and unlikable to me. After the first hundred pages, however, he grew on me. I sort of believe my initial aversion to Oskar is simply based on the fact that I’m not a fan of child narrators.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. It’s important to remind ourselves of the tragedies that occurred in New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. For many people, it’s easier to remember through fiction. This is definitely a book I’ll be reading again.

 

Click here to discover more books about September 11th, 2001

 

Book Review: The Water Knife – Paolo Bacigalupi

Toomie sighed. “I used to know this Indian guy. Skinny dude, came over from India. Didn’t have a wife or family anymore. Maybe they were back there in India, I can’t remember. Anyway, the thing he said that stuck with me was that people are alone here in America. They’re all alone. And they don’t trust anyone except themselves, and they don’t rely on anyone except themselves. He said that was why he thought India would survive all this apocalyptic shit, but America wouldn’t. Because here, no one knew their neighbors.” He laughed at that. “I can still remember his head wagging back and forth, ‘No one is knowing their neighbors.'”

The Book
The Water Knife – Paolo Bacigalupi
Goodreads
Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

What It Is
A post-apocalyptic novel that takes place when the world has passed an ecological tipping point. The American West has run out of water, and only the largest cities remain. Forest fires rip across the mountains, and states have closed their borders to outsiders. Cities are resorting to nefarious means of getting their hands on water rights, with California lining snipers up along the Colorado River and Las Vegas employing mercenaries as “Water Knives” to implement take-overs of pipelines.

The book follows several different characters and weaves their stories together. Angel is a water knife working for Catherine Case, the “Water Queen” of Las Vegas. Case sends him to Phoenix when one of her other guys starts getting scared of what’s about to go down. He’s not sure what he’s looking for, but right away he can feel something is off.

In Phoenix, he meets the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Lucy, who moved there in order to write about the city as it crumbles around her. She’s resourceful, clever, and is dedicated to her job. We also follow the story of Maria and Sarah, two youngish girls trying to survive, by whatever means necessary, eventually leading to tragic and very violent ends.

Lucy and Angel team up to track down the oldest known water rights to the river, finding corpses and backstabbing along the way. Eventually, Angel realizes he knows exactly where the rights are, and together they go after them.

What I Loved
It’s a terrifying interpretation of what could happen if we, as a species, don’t act to stop runaway global warming, especially with articles like this coming out. Post-apocalyptic tales are my favorite genre, and I enjoyed the climate change angle in this one. I also enjoyed the pace of the story.  However, I have read other reviews where people have said it started off too slow for them, so I think it comes down to personal taste.

What I Disliked
A lot of the characters fall flat, and I wish there had been more character development. Most of them display a “have to be tough to survive” mentality, and that’s about it. Maria and Toomie are the only characters I had any amount of sympathy for. There was also the rushed and unlikely romance between Lucy and Angel, and I feel like the story could have easily continued without it. Finally, I hated the moment Angel realizes he knows where the water rights are; it seems unlikely and a little bit like a copout.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Borrow. It’s an entertaining book to read, and it’s an interesting look at a futuristic America where we didn’t do enough to stop global warming. It’s not perfect though, so I’m not sure this is the sort of book that you would find yourself picking up multiple times.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – Book Review

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

“Dear Miranda Silver,
This house is bigger than you know! There are extra floors, with lots of people in them. They are looking people. They look at you, and they never move. We do not like them. We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away. This is the end of our letter.”

The Book
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Goodreads
Author’s Links: Website

What it is
Miranda Silver, her twin brother Eliot, and their father live in a haunted bed and breakfast across the street from a field of unmarked graves. The Silver House is the ancestral home to the Silver women, who appear to linger in the unseen portions of the house. Outsiders are unwelcome, particularly people of color and immigrants, and the house uses its mysterious supernatural attributes to get those people to flee.

Much of this book deals with Miranda’s mental illness. She suffers from pica, a disorder that causes her to hunger for non-food items, her favorite being chalk. She spent time at a clinic for her disorder while in high school, and we ride back with her to her home after she’s picked up by her father and brother. The scene in the car is a distinctly awkward one, and Eliot seems particularly uncomfortable and quiet.

The family is also grieving the loss of Miranda’s mother, Lily, a photo-journalist who was killed in Haiti when the twins were sixteen. Miranda wears a watch with its time set to “Haiti time,” and feels some guilt about her role in her mother’s death, despite being in Dover, England as it happened.

Miranda is accepted into Cambridge, where she meets Ore, a young woman adopted from Africa, and they find themselves in a romantic relationship. Ore tells Miranda a story about the soucouyant, a monster that leaves its body to consume the blood of the living. The folklore of the soucouyant is reflective of Miranda’s relationship with Ore, as Ore transitions from healthy to nearly anorexic while they’re together. Miranda is literally sucking the life out of Ore.

When Miranda’s father becomes aware of how bad her health has become while away at college, she is brought back home until she can get better. Ore comes to visit her, witnessing some unsettling experiences while there, and confiding in the housekeeper and cook, Sade.

Miranda grows sicker, and we then see the influence the house has on her, culminating in Miranda’s disappearance.

What I Loved
I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m honestly quite unsure how to classify it. Most often I see it listed as a horror novel, but, although it does contain many elements of the supernatural, it feels more like magical realism to me.

So many of the spooky happenings in the house are ambiguous and intentionally left unexplained. I enjoyed that aspect, as it reinforces the overall tone of the book and leads to the reader feeling unsure and a bit spooked.

One of the most unusual aspects of the book that I enjoyed is that the house itself is a narrator of the story at times. To be honest, the house is just as much a character in the story as the Silver family. It has its own personality, although that personality is a very racist and evil one.

What I Disliked
There are side stories in the book that are left hanging, and it was frustrating at times. The best example involves Kosovan immigrants that are being murdered around town, with no suspect in custody. Miranda is confronted by a classmate who accuses her of being involved in the murders, as they believe she’s been seen with the victims prior to their stabbings.

“We saw you,” the second girl said. “You and Amir, you and Farouk, you and Agim, you and whoever. Then they end up getting stabbed.”

Aside from a run-in with Agim, the attacking girl’s cousin and one of the victims who survived, we don’t learn much more about their stories. However, I feel like we’re meant to understand that their murders are related to the Silver house, as we also read in the book that Miranda greatly favors her great-grandmother, Anna Good, whose ghost or spirit is still possessing the house. Referred to as “the Goodlady” throughout the novel,  Anna Good, whose husband died in the war, loathed “outsiders” and blamed them for her husband’s death. Is it possible Anna Good is the cause of those murders?

There are also some awkward allusions to flirtings with an incestuous relationship between Miranda and Eliot. I can only remember two references, but it felt pretty unnecessary to the story.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read more than once.

White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi

“Dear Miranda Silver,
This house is bigger than you know! There are extra floors, with lots of people in them. They are looking people. They look at you, and they never move. We do not like them. We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away. This is the end of our letter.”

The Book
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Goodreads
Author’s Links: Website

What it is
Miranda Silver, her twin brother Eliot, and their father live in a haunted bed and breakfast across the street from a field of unmarked graves. The Silver House is the ancestral home to the Silver women, who appear to linger in the unseen portions of the house. Outsiders are unwelcome, particularly people of color and immigrants, and the house uses its mysterious supernatural attributes to get those people to flee.

Much of this book deals with Miranda’s mental illness. She suffers from pica, a disorder that causes her to hunger for non-food items, her favorite being chalk. She spent time at a clinic for her disorder while in high school, and we ride back with her to her home after she’s picked up by her father and brother. The scene in the car is a distinctly awkward one, and Eliot seems particularly uncomfortable and quiet.

The family is also grieving the loss of Miranda’s mother, Lily, a photo-journalist who was killed in Haiti when the twins were sixteen. Miranda wears a watch with its time set to “Haiti time,” and feels some guilt about her role in her mother’s death, despite being in Dover, England as it happened.

Miranda is accepted into Cambridge, where she meets Ore, a young woman adopted from Africa, and they find themselves in a romantic relationship. Ore tells Miranda a story about the soucouyant, a monster that leaves its body to consume the blood of the living. The folklore of the soucouyant is reflective of Miranda’s relationship with Ore, as Ore transitions from healthy to nearly anorexic while they’re together. Miranda is literally sucking the life out of Ore.

When Miranda’s father becomes aware of how bad her health has become while away at college, she is brought back home until she can get better. Ore comes to visit her, witnessing some unsettling experiences while there, and confiding in the housekeeper and cook, Sade.

Miranda grows sicker, and we then see the influence the house has on her, culminating in Miranda’s disappearance.

What I Loved
I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m honestly quite unsure how to classify it. Most often I see it listed as a horror novel, but, although it does contain many elements of the supernatural, it feels more like magical realism to me.

So many of the spooky happenings in the house are ambiguous and intentionally left unexplained. I enjoyed that aspect, as it reinforces the overall tone of the book and leads to the reader feeling unsure and a bit spooked.

One of the most unusual aspects of the book that I enjoyed is that the house itself is a narrator of the story at times. To be honest, the house is just as much a character in the story as the Silver family. It has its own personality, although that personality is a very racist and evil one.

What I Disliked
There are side stories in the book that are left hanging, and it was frustrating at times. The best example involves Kosovan immigrants that are being murdered around town, with no suspect in custody. Miranda is confronted by a classmate who accuses her of being involved in the murders, as they believe she’s been seen with the victims prior to their stabbings.

“We saw you,” the second girl said. “You and Amir, you and Farouk, you and Agim, you and whoever. Then they end up getting stabbed.”

Aside from a run-in with Agim, the attacking girl’s cousin and one of the victims who survived, we don’t learn much more about their stories. However, I feel like we’re meant to understand that their murders are related to the Silver house, as we also read in the book that Miranda greatly favors her great-grandmother, Anna Good, whose ghost or spirit is still possessing the house. Referred to as “the Goodlady” throughout the novel,  Anna Good, whose husband died in the war, loathed “outsiders” and blamed them for her husband’s death. Is it possible Anna Good is the cause of those murders?

There are also some awkward allusions to flirtings with an incestuous relationship between Miranda and Eliot. I can only remember two references, but it felt pretty unnecessary to the story.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read more than once.