‘I used to be an atheist,’ says ten-year-old Oskar Schell, ‘which means I didn’t believe in things that couldn’t be observed… It’s not that I believe in things that can’t be observed now, because I don’t. It’s that I believe things are extremely complicated.’
On 11 September 2001, Oskar is sent home from school when the World Trade Center is attacked. He is not anxious for his parents, since neither of them works near the Twin Towers. But when he gets home, he plays the messages on the answering machine, and discovers that his father is trapped at the top of one of the burning towers. Minutes later, the tower collapses.
Oskar is a brainy, precocious, charming, confident boy whose father has been his god. For all his brilliance, he can find nothing to help him out of the misery into which he has been pitched. ‘I’ll wear heavy boots for the rest of my life,’ he says. With his mother locked in a grief of her own, Oskar battles to untangle his turbulent feelings. Loss is complicated by fear, resentment, guilt and anger. He is confounded. And then he finds, in his father’s closet, a key he has never seen before. Seizing on this key as a mysterious ‘clue’, he sets out on a quest to find its lock — ‘finding the lock was my ultimate raison d’