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I was struck by Eisenberg’s implication that the 9/11 attack is equivalent to other catastrophes that have historically brought down powerful empires. In the scene on page 40 where Lucien recalls his school days with Miss Mueller, he is aware that the Roman empire is represented not only by statues, buildings, and legacies such as a code of laws, but also by people, and he wonders what the people of Rome thought and felt and whether they foresaw the downfall of their country. In contrast, the older Lucien recognizes that the people of the United States didn’t foresee the 9/11 attack because they missed all of the cues that something terrible was going to happen. They were too focused on the future that was “implied by the past they[ were] all familiar with” and which they assumed was going to happen.

The section where Lucien learns about ancient Rome comes just before the end, so the description of the children looking at pictures in their textbooks evoked for me the pictures in Lucien’s textbook of important landmarks, even though they are said to be pictures of Rose, Isaac, Nathaniel, and Lucien. I got the impression that the alien children were, like Lucien, wondering if humans had foreseen their downfall, with the world’s three great religions trying to annihilate everyone except themselves.

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