This book grabs hold of you right from the first word and does not let go of you until the last. Theo Drecker has been raised primarily by his mother, as his father, an alcoholic, has abandoned them. So when his mother is suddenly killed in an act of terrorism, Theo’s life is completely upended. The trajectory of his life goes into twists and turns that are often sad, occasionally shocking, and always riveting.
The writing in this book is so detailed and realistic that you feel it must be autobiographical (but of course, it is far from that), but it is descriptive without being overly ornate. The story is also utterly tragic, but the characters do not wallow in their tragedy– they trudge through it and the story moves on with persistent force. The characters are genuine and complex, with charm and humanity and frailties that make them utterly real. And you love and hate and empathize with these characters just as Theo does. It feels like Theo himself becomes an actual person.
At the end of the book, Theo waxes somewhat poetic and philosophical as he reflects on his experiences. I rarely quote the books I read but I can’t help quoting this:
“… That life — whatever else it is — is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it is our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.”*
Evidently, this book, too, is being made into a movie (by the team that has produced The Hunger Games, no less). So hurry and read this quick before the movie comes out! Because as you know, the book is always better!
*This quote refers to Theo’s love of beautiful things, especially his love for a particular painting which is critical to the story line. But I think it can be applied to almost anything we love.