Page 184. " The paper helped our house burn. "


On the 13th and 14th of February, 1945, the British and American Air Forces bombed the city of Dresden in Germany. Between 18,000 and 25,000 people were killed in the raid, most of them civilians. Some commentators have argued that the bombing was not of military importance and amounted to a war crime.

The bombing created a fire of such intensity that it produced and sustained its own wind system. This phenomenon is known as a firestorm, and in Dresden it destroyed 39 square kilometres of the city.

Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, features the Dresden firestorm.


Page 186. " I told them, Go. "

The way Oskar's grandmother releases the animals after Thomas Snr leaves is reminiscent of the many myths telling how animals sense disaster and flee. That they don't return recalls the phrase, 'If you love something let it go; if it comes back to you then you know it loves you': it forbodes the long absence of her husband.

Gerolamo Bassano - Entrada de Animais na Arca de Noé, 1590-1620
Public DomainGerolamo Bassano - Entrada de Animais na Arca de Noé, 1590-1620


Page 187. " Can you describe the events of that morning? "
Atomic Cloud over Hiroshima
Public DomainAtomic Cloud over Hiroshima

On 6 August 1945 the US army, by order of President Harry S. Truman, dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The bomb, nicknamed 'Little Boy', killed somewhere between 90,000 and 170,000 people. It was the first nuclear weapon used against human beings; the bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later was the last. 

Kinue Tomoyasu was a 44-year-old widow at the time of the bombing. Her son had left to fight in the war and she lived with her only daughter.  The transcription included in the book is somewhat edited.

Eye-witness accounts

Hiroshima Burn Victim
Public DomainHiroshima Burn Victim


Page 188. " I was at the Nikitsu Shrine when the black rain started "

'Black rain' refers to the nuclear fallout from the Hiroshima atomic blast. Mixed with carbon from fires and atmospheric water, radioactive dust and ash fell onto the streets of the city as an oily and sticky black liquid which poisoned both people and animals.

Black rain is now a general term used for any nuclear fallout.



Page 190. " Richard Buckminster Fuller was a scientist, philosopher, and inventor who is most famous for designing the geodesic dome "
Geodesic Sphere
GNU Free Documentation LicenseGeodesic Sphere - Credit: Theon

A geodesic dome is a spherical shell structure made up of a network of great circles lying on the surface of a sphere.  Geodesic domes are important in architecture because they allow an enclosed space free of structural supports, as seen at the Eden Project and Epcot, Disney World.

I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.

    -  Buckminster Fuller, I Seem To Be a Verb (1970)


Page 190. " to show how cats reach terminal velocity by making themselves into little parachutes "

It is widely thought that cats have a non-fatal terminal velocity, as they orientate themselves like flying squirrels.  Stories abound of cats surviving very high falls, including one that was dropped from a light aircraft at 800 feet by a particularly repellent amateur experimenter.

However cats ARE frequently badly injured by big falls.  Dropping cats off roofs is cruel, regardless of their survival chances.



Page 193. " I saw a TV show where someone ripped a phone book in half "


Page 193. " I invented a postage stamp where the back tastes like crème brûlée "
Creme brulee
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCreme brulee - Credit: cyclonebill

Crème brûlée means 'burned cream' in French. It is a delicious creamy, vanilla-infused custard dessert with a crunchy caramelised top.


Page 196. " We bought some tamales that a woman was selling by the subway "


Creative Commons AttributionTamales - Credit: rvacapinta / ricardo
Tamales originate from the Aztec civilisation in Mesoamerica. They are packets of corn dough which can be filled with sweet or savoury foodstuffs. They are usually wrapped in corn husks.

         Beef Tamales Recipe


Page 199. " Most sincerely, Jane Goodall "
Jane Goodall
GNU Free Documentation LicenseJane Goodall - Credit: jeek

 Jane Goodall is a British zoologist best known for her 45-year study of the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, and her extensive advocacy of animal rights and conservation.

In her study of chimpanzee social life, one of Goodall's most influential discoveries was tool-making amongst chimpanzees, which led scientists to redefine the category of 'human'. She has also campaigned actively for the preservation of chimpanzees habitats, the protection of tropical habitats, and animal welfare.

The Jane Goodall Institute