In Romania we read a lot of literature by dead white guys even though a lot of modern literature is being translated. One author that hasn’t had the pleasure of a translation yet is Jonathan Safran Foer (see photo), who penned the gorgeous “Everything is Illuminated” and the mind-blowing “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
I just finished reading the second one; a book that follows nine-year-old Oskar Schell’s quest to understand the death of his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Oskar’s mission spans the whole city of New York and involves dozens of people named Black, who Oskar seeks out because he is trying to find the origin of a mysterious key found in an envelope that had “Black” inscribed on it.
Here is Oskar talking to one of the Blacks, an old reporter who had fought three wars and had passed the 100 mark. Black tells Oskar about one of the stories he reported on when he was young and makes a heart-warming point about the importance of stories. The sucker for stories in me fell for this one right away:
“I once went to report on a village in Russia, a community of artists who were forced to flee the cities! I’d heard that paintings hung everywhere! I heard you couldn’t see the walls through all of the paintings! They’d painted the ceilings, the plates, the windows, the lampshades! Was it an act of rebellion! An act of expression! Were the paintings good, or was that beside the point! I needed to see it for myself, and I needed to tell the world about it! I used to live for reporting like that!
Stalin found out about the community and sent his thugs in, just a few days before I got there, to break all of their arms! That was worse than killing them! It was a horrible sight, Oskar: their arms in crude splints, straight in front of them like zombies! They couldn’t feed themselves, because they couldn’t get their hands to their mouths! So you know what they did!”
“They fed each other! That’s the difference between heaven and hell! In hell we starve! In heaven we feed each other!”
“I don’t believe in the afterlife.”
“Neither do I, but I believe in the story.”