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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The more recent American - New Yorker - literary scene (ok, Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Safran Foer) never inspired much curiosity in me. I tend to shy away from what people who are too similar - urban born and raised, educated, living in a gentrified neighborhood but pretending to be different from the gentrifiers; Foer wrote an intellectual take on why to be vegetarian for crying out loud - to me both read or write. Yet, for one reason or another I picked up Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close some time ago and it actually is a really good book.

Foer essentially tells the tale of two generations incapable of dealing with the horrors they had to deal with. On the one hand these are the grand-parents who fled from Nazi Germany without ever managing to truly start a new life in New York, on the other hand is their grand-son who lost his father in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Foer weaves these two tales, which a priori have no connection of course apart from the plight of human suffering, into a coherent total even if they never truly become one, but then maybe that's the point. He combines a sort of naive pseudo-magical realism storytelling through the grandson with letters from various characters sent to one another describing their lives and - for the most part - their failure to overcome their past. The grandparents' lives objectively seen is simply horrifying and that's the life that comes after they have come to their safe haven, the USA.

What's also interesting is how Foer throws in imagery into his text. I am not usually a fan of anything out of an ordinary white page with black writing, but his experiments with individual words or sentences on one page, or the font blending into itself as to become illegible are noteworthy to say the least. I cannot say I needed this kind of innovation but especially his last idea of this kind - consisting of a number of photographs juxtaposed - drives its point home forcefully. The book - obviously - would have been highly recommendable without these also.

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