Wars leave scars. Tragedies leave scars.
Meet Oskar. Son. Grandson. Very intelligent and quirky 9-year-old boy whose dad died in the World Trade Center attack. Knowledgeable beyond his years but still reasons like a child. Devotee of Dad. Loves Mom but sometimes their grief dances collide and they have to tiptoe around each other. Goes on a discovery mission to get another piece of his dad’s life and death.
Meet Grandma. Survived WWII. Survived her lost marriage. Survived death of son. Haunted by things left unsaid. She wants to be loved and needed and Oskar fills that role. Writes her feelings prolifically.
Meet Grandpa. Survivor. Abandoner. He can’t live and doesn’t die and thinks “life is scarier than death.” Becomes mute. Becomes the Renter. Prolific writer to his son. Selfish. Regretful.
Meet Anna. Grandma’s sister, love of Grandpa’s life. Dead since the bombing of Dresden. Alive in the turn of the century in those who loved her because all the unresolved feelings and words unsaid still haunt them.
Meet Thomas. Father of Oskar. Son of Grandma. Offspring of Grandpa. Dead. Object of everyone’s affections. Ached over. Transitional character who connects two tragedies.
There are other characters:. Mom, of course. Stan the doorman. All the people named Black in the five boroughs. New York City. Family lost in the Dresden bombings. And grief.
Grief drives this book’s plot. So many of the characters lived with secrets. And shame. And regret. This book is a stew of these emotions from all of the characters:
“She let out a laugh, and then she put her hand over her mouth, like she was angry at herself for forgetting her sadness.”
“We were quiet on the car ride home. I turned on the radio and found a station playing “Hey Jude.” It was true, I didn’t want to make it bad. I wanted to take the sad song and make it better. It’s just that I didn’t know how.”
“Why didn’t I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.”
“Grief and loss are probably the most fearful creatures that exist. But loss shouldn’t be a fearful creature. It should be a creature of wisdom. It should teach us not to fear that tomorrow may never come, but live fully, as though the hours are melting away like seconds. Loss should teach us to cherish those we love, to never do anything that will result in regret, and to cheer on tomorrow with all of its promises of greatness. It’s easy and un-extraordinary to be frightened of life. It’s far more difficult to arm yourself with the good stuff despite all the bad and step foot into tomorrow as an everyday warrior.”
“I didn’t understand why I needed help, because it seemed to me that you should wear heavy boots when your dad dies, and if you aren’t wearing heavy boots, then you need help.”
“I try not to remember the life that I didn’t want to lose but lost and have to remember”
“I said, ‘I need to know how he died.’
He flipped back and pointed at, ‘Why?’
So I can stop inventing how he died. I’m always inventing.”
Grief is real. Grief will kick your butt. Death needs to be grieved so it doesn’t haunt you. It’s a stumbing block, especially when guilt is in the stew.
Grief is such a fascinating subject. The converstations and the thought processes revealed are raw and deep and reveal the characters’ emotional and spiritual state. They seem unable to get out of the cycle of grief. Unable and unwilling. Some seem unable, some seem unwilling.
Everyone handles grief differently. I would join a support group. I would write. I would cry. And I would pray. I’m sure I would have to overcome some unhealthy obstacles but I can’t imagine letting grief ruin me. Maybe I’m naive.
This is not a book about the aftermath of September 11, 2001 or WWII. It’s a book about how to survive tragedy and how to live again. It’s brought to the reader so poignantly and unfolds in a way to tie characters to each other. It makes you think about life and death and their scars. I recommend it!