Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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Grandpa Character Analysis

Thomas Schell, Sr. is Oskar’s grandfather, who also is one of the narrators of the novel: several of the chapters present a series of letters that Grandpa has written to his son but never sent. (Many of these letters could either be to Anna’s unborn child or to Oskar’s Dad, who is also named Thomas Schell.) Grandpa is a sculptor, and he’s sensitive and artistic. He survived the firebombing of Dresden, but as a result, has a tremendous amount of post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt: Grandpa’s lover, Anna, and their unborn child died in the firebombing, along with Grandpa’s parents and hundreds of others. Due to the aftereffects of this trauma, Grandpa loses the ability to speak. He has YES and NO tattooed on his hands and relies on gestures and notes in blank books, which he refers to as his “daybooks,” to communicate. Grandpa comes to New York and runs into Grandma, Anna’s sister; they marry, though Grandpa is still in love with Anna and mourning her loss, and they set up an elaborate system of rules for themselves, designating areas of the apartment as “Something” and “Nothing.” When Grandma gets pregnant, breaking one of their rules, Grandpa leaves her and goes back to Germany. Forty years later, he returns to New York, and eventually, Grandma lets him stay in her apartment. Oskar only knows Grandpa as “the renter.” Oskar and “the renter” dig up Dad’s grave, and Grandpa buries his unsent letters inside Dad’s coffin. At the end of the novel, Grandpa goes to the airport, presumably to run away again, but Grandma follows him and convinces him to live in the airport with her.

Grandpa Quotes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close quotes below are all either spoken by Grandpa or refer to Grandpa. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Mariner Books edition of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close published in 2006.
Chapter 2 Quotes

I haven’t always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk and talk, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, the silence overtook me like a cancer.

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker)
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, which is the first sentence of Grandpa’s letter to his son, Oskar’s father, Grandpa explains that he used to talk incessantly. Now, post-traumatic stress disorder has made Grandpa unable to speak, so he has to write to communicate anything that he wants to say. Grandpa has been writing this letter for many decades, but after September 11, he will never be able to give it to Oskar’s father. However, he cannot stop attempting to reach out. Everything that he has been unable to say aloud has built up within him, and he feels compelled to try and say everything.

Even though Grandpa can no longer speak, he has an infinite amount that he wants to express. Grandpa writes in long, run-on sentences with phrases connected by commas, which creates a sensation of urgency, as if he is trying to atone for his many years of silence. Throughout the novel, characters have a lot of difficulty communicating with each other effectively. Sometimes, too many words might not express anything at all, whereas a gesture or a look can say everything that needs to be said. Talking all the time can prove to be more of a defense mechanism than a method of true communication. In the past, even though Grandpa talked all the time, he failed to listen, and therefore to communicate emotions.

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Chapter 6 Quotes

We took the blueprint of our apartment from the hallway closet and taped it to the inside of the front door, with an orange and a green marker we separated Something from Nothing. “This is Something,” we decided. “This is Nothing.” “Something.” “Nothing.” “Something.” “Nothing.” “Nothing.” “Nothing.” Everything was forever fixed, there would only be peace and happiness, it wasn’t until last night, our last night together, that the inevitable question finally arose, I told her, “Something,” by covering her face with my hands and then lifting them like a marriage veil. “We must be.” But I knew, in the most protected part of my heart, the truth.

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker), Grandma (speaker)
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Anna’s death in the Dresden firebombing deeply traumatized both Grandma and Grandpa, as Anna was Grandma’s sister and Grandpa’s first wife. Grandma and Grandpa marry each other with the hope that they will help each other move forward with their lives, but instead, they end up creating elaborate systems of avoiding both themselves and each other rather than processing their emotions. Anna’s death brings Grandpa and Grandma together initially, but the shared grief proves to be too much for them to process, and the grief corrodes their relationship and separates them. Anna’s death also foreshadows Dad’s death as a traumatic experience that deeply affects the whole family, and compels the family to have to figure out how to communicate with each other. The map of Something and Nothing areas is also reminiscent of Oskar’s quest around New York. Each apartment that Oskar enters on his quest has some sort of secret within it, just like Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment.

Although Grandpa doesn’t say so explicitly, the final place that Grandma and Grandpa make as “Something” or “Nothing” is most likely their bed. The description of Grandpa lifting his hands like a “marriage veil” strongly hints that they are discussing their marriage bed and, therefore, whether or not they will continue to sleep together, even though they are drifting apart. They claim that they will, but Grandpa has already written earlier in the chapter that he has decided to leave Grandma.

I have so much to tell you, the problem isn’t that I’m running out of time, I’m running out of room, this book is filling up, there couldn’t be enough pages, I looked around the apartment this morning for one last time and there was writing everywhere, filling the walls and mirrors, I’d rolled up the rugs so I could write on the floor, I’d written on the walls and around the bottles of wine we were given but never drank, I wear only short sleeves, even when it’s cold, because my arms are books, too. But there’s too much to express. I’m sorry.

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker), Grandma
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

The idea of Grandpa running out of room to write things down echoes Oskar’s question in the beginning of the novel about what will happen when the number of dead people in the world outpaces the amount of room available to contain all the bodies. Because Grandpa is writing to his unborn son, he is not afraid of running out of time, but rather running out of space. Ironically, however, he does not ultimately run out of space but instead out of time. The letter to Oskar’s father continues for forty years, but before Oskar’s father gets to read it, he is killed on September 11.

Grandpa expresses his desperate need to convey as much information as possible to assuage his guilt at leaving his pregnant wife and never meeting his unborn child. However, the only emotion he really needs to say is “I’m sorry.” These two words carry a huge, rich emotional truth, and the rest of Grandpa’s information is more for Grandpa’s sake than the letter’s addressee. Grandpa needs to feel cleansed by purging all his traumatic history, and the letter represents a way for him to put down for posterity all the things that Grandpa can no longer say out loud. Grandpa has psychologically lost his ability to speak due to post-traumatic stress disorder, and this combined with his guilt of abandonment compel him to try and atone for the past by recording as much as possible. 

Chapter 8 Quotes

He took a picture of every doorknob in the apartment. Every one. As if the world and its future depended on each doorknob. As if we would be thinking about doorknobs should we ever actually need to use the pictures of them.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Grandpa
Related Symbols: Doorknobs
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

In her letter to Oskar, Grandma writes that she wants to communicate with Grandpa, but when she tries to hold open a door, both metaphorically and physically, he is more interested in his memories and in obsessively creating an archive, rather than trying to move forward. Instead of actually living in his life, Grandpa devotes his time to making a record of the spaces around him. Doorknobs are particularly important to Grandpa, since a doorknob burned him in the Dresden firebombing, and therefore they hold an extremely significant symbolic place in his mind.

Doorknobs represent thresholds throughout the novel. A door can provide an entrance and open an avenue of communication. For Oskar, each person with the last name Black lives behind another mysterious doorknob, and every doorknob opens into a new world. Each doorknob is also an opportunity to try the key that Oskar carries around with him all the time, as he carries the hope that each door could be a potential solution to his quest. However, a door can also be used as a wall to close out the world and shut people out. Jonathan Safran Foer includes several of these pictures of doorknobs, which make the reader feel like he or she is also the intended recipient of these letters, since we get to experience not only reading about them, but also see the actual artifacts. Some of the doorknobs pictured are locked, suggesting the effect of closing off from the world. However, the locked doorknob also entails that there is a key that will open it, so there is still hope.

Chapter 13 Quotes

I want to stop inventing. If I could know how he died, exactly how he died, I wouldn’t have to invent him dying…There were so many different ways to die, and I just need to know which was his.

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker), Grandpa, Dad
Related Symbols: Science, Mathematics, and Invention
Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, invention and telling stories have been a source of comfort and security for Oskar. However, in the quest to come to terms with his father’s death, Oskar is frustrated by his fruitless obsession with imagined scenarios, and he wants the truth to set him free. He fixates on his father’s mode of death because it provides a concrete clue that gives him focus and purpose, rather than the depressing concept of seeing everything as a meaningless void. Oskar gets the idea to dig up his father’s coffin, which makes Oskar's role in Hamlet as the dead skull of Yorick all the more symbolically, if morbidly, appropriate.

Oskar is speaking to a man whom he calls “the renter,” since he only knows him as the man who is staying with Grandma. Unbeknownst to Oskar, however, “the renter” is actually Oskar’s grandfather, and although he thinks he is entrusting his story with a stranger, he is instead confiding to his father’s father, which is about the closest to his father that he can get in real life.

Chapter 14 Quotes

I was in Dresden’s train station when I lost everything for the second time.

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker)
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, the Dresden firebombing during World War II is the trauma that serves as the parallel precursor to the trauma of September 11. Grandpa and Grandma both lost a beloved person in their lives: Anna, Grandma’s sister and Grandpa’s lover. Being in the Dresden train station is also a parallel setting to the airport where Grandma and Grandpa reveal they have been throughout the entire novel. Both train stations and airports are points of transportations, empty spaces where people are coming and going. On the one hand, just like the space between the boroughs that could seem like a gaping void, train stations and airports belong nowhere and are a kind of black hole. On the other hand, these places have infinite potential, and any number of universes could unfold from them.

Even though the statement that one has lost everything a second time is very depressing, it also contains hope within it. To have lost everything twice means that even if someone loses everything once, that person can create a new life. Losing everything twice is, in some ways, doubly sad, yet if a life was rebuilt once, it can be built again.

There won’t be enough pages in this book for me to tell you what I need to tell you, I could write smaller, I could slice the pages down their edges to make two pages, I could write over my own writing, but then what?

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker), Dad
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

Grandpa continues to write his letter, and Foer represents this writing visually in the novel by making the font smaller and smaller, so that the words crowd on the page until they blend together into an illegible black square. Infinite stories are crammed into a finite space, which makes everything disappear into itself. The visual image of trying to cram in as much writing as possible in one book, even writing over previous writing, creates a visual echo of journals by people in the Holocaust. Writers such as Anne Frank often lacked access to blank paper, so they had to resort to cramped script and to writing over their own words.

This desire to cram everything into the book also gives another layer of meaning to the book’s title. The writing is a visual representation of being extremely loud and incredibly close, and there is so much writing on the page that the reader feels very overwhelmed and unable to absorb any of the information presented. Grandpa feels terribly guilty that he has not been able to communicate with his son and his wife, and to try and assuage his sensations of guilt, he wants to keep reaching out his line of communication, even though continuing to push information through won’t bring back the person who is supposed to be on the other end of the line.

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Grandpa Character Timeline in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The timeline below shows where the character Grandpa appears in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1, “What The?”
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...second time that he was in a limo—when he and “the renter” (that is, Oskar’s Grandpa) went to dig up Dad’s coffin—and then talks about the “Reconnaissance Expeditions” that he and... (full context)
Chapter 2, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (5/21/63)”
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...longer be the narrator. (The reader doesn’t know it yet, but the narrator is Oskar’s Grandpa.) The chapter is written in the form of a letter that begins, “To my unborn... (full context)
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To communicate, Grandpa has the word “YES” tattooed on his left palm and “NO” tattooed on his right.... (full context)
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...or “Ha ha ha!”. The letter resumes after a few of these blank pages, and Grandpa describes the hundreds of stacks of these daybooks that have accumulated all over his apartment.... (full context)
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When Grandpa met the mother of the “unborn son,” he had already lost the ability to speak.... (full context)
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The woman (Grandma) asks the writer of the letter (Grandpa) why he doesn’t speak, and the narrator writes, “I don’t speak. I’m so sorry.” The... (full context)
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Grandpa flips back to several phrases in the daybook–– “Ha ha ha!” and “I’m sorry, this... (full context)
Chapter 3, “Googolplex”
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...they do very often. Oskar tells Grandma that he misses Dad. He asks her why Grandpa wanted to leave, and imagines a device that would flash out of ambulances to tell... (full context)
Chapter 4, “My Feelings”
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Grandma goes to Grandpa’s apartment every day so that he can sculpt her. The apartment is filled with animals,... (full context)
Chapter 6, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (5/21/63)”
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...same date as the letter from Chapter 2, and it’s by the same narrator—that is, Grandpa—writing to his son. The letter begins with a long, stream-of-consciousness description of the many rules... (full context)
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Grandpa writes that he thought he and Grandma could have had a beautiful reunion, although they... (full context)
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Grandpa says that he’s writing from the airport to his unborn son, thinking about Anna. He... (full context)
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Day after day, Grandpa walked to Anna’s house, but she’s never home. As it turns out, she was never... (full context)
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There’s a piece of paper from Grandpa’s daybook inserted—“Do you know what time it is?—and the narration returns to the present. He... (full context)
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...that she’d never noticed. Jonathan Safran Foer includes a few blank sheets in the chapter. Grandpa can’t bear to tell Grandma that the pages are all blank, so he tells her... (full context)
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After another piece of paper from Grandpa’s daybook that reads “Do you know what time it is?”, the narrator reminisces about the... (full context)
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There is another sheet from Grandpa’s daybook that reads “Do you know what time it is?”, and the narration returns to... (full context)
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Grandpa writes that he’s sorry for everything—sorry for the marriage, sorry for being about to leave... (full context)
Chapter 7, Heavier Boots
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...himself reads: “A.R. Black: WAR HUSBAND”. Oskar asks if Mr. Black has a card for Thomas Schell , but he doesn’t have one, which gives Oskar “heavy, heavy boots.” (full context)
Chapter 8, “My Feelings”
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Grandma discusses the beginning of her marriage with Grandpa. Grandpa took pictures of every detail in their apartment, including the doorknobs. Grandpa used to... (full context)
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...feels a hole inside her and realizes that she needs a child. She writes in Grandpa’s daybook to tell him that she is pregnant, which means that she has broken the... (full context)
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Grandma follows Grandpa to the airport, but he tells her that she has to go home. Even though... (full context)
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In the airport, talking to Grandpa, Grandma has several memories of her family as she is trying to convince Grandpa to... (full context)
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Grandpa keeps pointing at “Broken and confused” and “Nothing” in the daybook and Grandma points at... (full context)
Chapter 10, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (4/12/78)”
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This letter, by Oskar’s Grandpa, has red pen circles around many words and phrases, as though someone had gone through... (full context)
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Grandpa is writing to his son from the spot where Anna and Grandma’s father’s shed used... (full context)
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The last time that Grandpa saw Anna, she told him that she was pregnant. That night, the bombs fell on... (full context)
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Grandpa goes to the zoo, where he has to shoot all the animals that had escaped.... (full context)
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Grandpa remembers that after Anna had told him she was pregnant, her father gave Grandpa a... (full context)
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Grandpa writes that he knows that he will not be able to send the letter he... (full context)
Chapter 12, “My Feelings”
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...Oskar to read the letter, and it says, “I’m sorry.” Grandma had scrubbed away all Grandpa’s writing after he had left her, but with these two words, she knows that he... (full context)
Chapter 13, “Alive and Alone”
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...from the guest room and realizes that it must be the renter. An old man (Grandpa, although Oskar doesn’t know it yet) opens the guest room door. The man brings out... (full context)
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Oskar stands in the hall, and Grandpa stands in the room: “The door was open, but it felt like there was an... (full context)
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Oskar decides to tell the old man––that is, Grandpa–– the whole story of his expedition, starting with the broken vase and going through all... (full context)
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...don’t know a single thing I didn’t know six months ago,” Oskar tells the renter (Grandpa). (full context)
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...runs home and gets the phone with Dad’s messages on it. Oskar plays them for Grandpa. Grandpa suggests (by writing) that maybe Dad had seen somebody inside and ran in to... (full context)
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...bodies, and he wonders if his Dad could have been one of them. Oskar asks Grandpa to try talking. Grandpa puts his fingers on his throat, and they flutter, but no... (full context)
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Grandpa writes Oskar a note asking Oskar not to tell Grandma that they’d met. Grandpa also... (full context)
Chapter 14, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (9/11/03)”
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The chapter opens with a few pages from Grandpa’s daybook, which are phrases he had written to Oskar in the previous chapter: “I don’t... (full context)
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Grandpa tells the story about his arrival in New York, a few days after September 11,... (full context)
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Grandpa writes about getting off the plane soon after September 11, 2001. He writes in his... (full context)
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Grandpa calls Grandma on a pay phone, and when she answers, he tries to communicate with... (full context)
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Grandpa was in a Dresden train station on September 11, 2001, “when I lost everything for... (full context)
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Grandma lets Grandpa live in the guest room. He finds his daybooks from before he had left: they... (full context)
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...is getting smaller and smaller, because there will never enough pages in the book for Grandpa to tell the whole story, he writes. Grandpa asks Grandma if he can meet Oskar,... (full context)
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One day, Grandma tells Grandpa about Dad—who is, she says, “Not our son, my son.” Grandma gave Dad the only... (full context)
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Grandpa spends most of his time walking around the city, and then he begins to follow... (full context)
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Grandpa goes to a bookstore on the Upper West Side and sees a man whom he... (full context)
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One day, Grandpa writes, when Oskar and the old man (Mr. Black) go into the Empire State Building,... (full context)
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Grandpa returns to the point in the story when Oskar meets Grandpa, only knowing him as... (full context)
Chapter 15, “A Simple Solution to an Impossible Problem”
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The day after “the renter” (Grandpa) and Oskar dig up Dad’s grave, Oskar goes to Mr. Black’s apartment to tell him... (full context)
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That night, Oskar meets the renter (Grandpa, that is) under the streetlamp to discuss the details of their plan to dig up... (full context)
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Grandpa gives Oskar a letter. It’s from Stephen Hawking, who thanks Oskar for all the letters... (full context)
Chapter 16, “My Feelings”
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Grandma, the narrator, describes the day when Grandpa comes in in the middle of the night with dirt on his pants. Grandpa doesn’t... (full context)
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...She writes a note, tapes it to the window, and takes a cab to follow Grandpa to the international terminal at the airport, where he is sitting and asking people what... (full context)
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Grandpa tells Grandma that Anna had been pregnant, but Grandma knew the whole time. Grandpa also... (full context)
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Grandma writes that she is typing this very letter sitting across from Grandpa at a table at the airport. When she is typing the letter to Oskar, Grandma... (full context)
Chapter 17, “Beautiful and True”
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...dig up the coffin. At 11:50 PM, Oskar sneaks out of the house to meet Grandpa, and at exactly midnight, Gerald, the limousine driver who had driven Oskar to Dad’s funeral,... (full context)
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At the cemetery, it takes twenty minutes just to find Dad’s grave. Oskar and Grandpa start digging, but after an hour, they’ve barely gotten anywhere. The flashlight runs out of... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...although he knows he shouldn’t be, at how empty it is. Even though Oskar and Grandpa had gone over all the details, they hadn’t discussed until the day before what they... (full context)