Book II

Summary: Chapter 5: Badr al-Dine

Theo returns to Sutton Place to retrieve the suitcase. In the cab on the way to the airport, Theo worries that the security scan will reveal the painting. Before they board, Xandra, a bar manager with access to all kinds of drugs, gives Theo a pill to calm him down that makes him high. As they drive through Las Vegas, Theo feels disconnected from his mother for the first time. They arrive at Larry’s house, a sparsely furnished modern home with a Maltese named Popper. In his room, Theo hides the painting. Theo sees that Larry has replaced Scotch with light beer and Vicodin. When Theo sees a bag of the white pills in the kitchen, Xandra tells him they are vitamins.

Theo starts school in August. There he meets Boris, a boy who has lived all over the world as his father is a miner. Boris’s mother, like Theo’s, is dead. Theo and Boris become inseparable friends who shoplift, drink beer and vodka, eat, watch movies, and talk endlessly. In Indonesia, Boris became a Muslim, and his name was Badr al-Dine, a reference to moonlight. One day, Boris comes to school with a black eye from his father. During this time, Theo tries to write letters to Pippa but throws them away before he finishes. One day, he gets a long letter from Hobie saying Pippa is unhappy living in Texas.

At Thanksgiving, Larry and Xandra go away on vacation, so Theo goes to Boris’s house. Theo and Boris watch the Macy’s parade, which reminds Theo of last Thanksgiving when the turkey Audrey bought went bad. She promised a better one this year. The boys get drunk and wrestle. Theo calls the Barbours, but they are on their way out to dinner. When Boris’s father, Mr. Pavlikovsky, comes home unexpectedly, he beats Boris with a cane. Boris runs out of the house, bleeding and holding a bottle of vodka. At a playground, Boris reveals that his father once killed a man with a wrench. They then head to Theo’s house and jump into the pool, wrestling, bleeding, fighting, and joking until they are exhausted. Boris tells Theo that he tried to kill his father once by locking him outside in the cold when he was drunk. When Theo wakes up screaming about the bombing, Boris and Popper comfort him.

Weeks later, on Christmas Eve, Theo and Boris prepare a dinner for Larry and Xandra, who have welcomed Boris in as family. While they’re cooking, Larry breezes in and insists that they all go out to dinner instead. He’s “won big” that day, so they go to a fancy restaurant where the boys eat heartily. Boris makes a hopeful and grateful toast, and Larry gives a gift to Xandra and money to the boys. 

Analysis: Chapter 5

Theo realizes that Las Vegas is a brand-new life that couldn’t be more different from the one he left behind. The landscape, the community, the houses, the people are the opposite of New York City. At first, the differences are daunting, but he soon realizes that the stark contrast allows him to let go of his mother in a significant way. Theo is no longer bombarded with memories at every turn, and there is little in Las Vegas to remind him of New York. He misses the Barbours, Hobie, and Pippa, but now he has Larry, Xandra, and soon, Boris. Starting school provides structure, comfort, and security. Theo is beginning to heal.

Chapter 5 is dominated by Theo’s friendship with Boris, a relationship both comforting and toxic, both loving and destructive. Early in the chapter, Theo—as an adult looking back at his childhood—remarks that Boris is one of the great friends in his life. However, the teenagers are two lost boys together. Their sadness binds them. Their disconnection from the world connects them. Their friendship is built on despair and loneliness, but it works, and it serves them both. Like brothers, Theo and Boris fight and insult each other. They carouse, comfort, and cajole. Their friendship is rough, edgy, messy, and sometimes violent, but underneath it all is kindness and compassion. Theo and Boris are children who have tragically lost their mothers, but they find solace and love in each other. For example, Boris soothes Theo when he has nightmares about the bombing. However, they are also each other’s foils. Boris is tough and resilient. Theo is timid and soft. Boris boldly faces life head-on, with gusto and reckless abandon, while Theo moves a bit more slowly, trying to find his way through his pain. Boris also provides Theo, and the narrative, with some much-needed comic relief.

Larry remains a shady individual, but at this point in the novel, he is mostly benign, especially compared to Boris’s violent and short-tempered father. Boris is a victim of domestic abuse and fears he’ll get into trouble if he tells anyone what his father does to him. He often makes excuses for his father’s heavy drinking and physical outbursts and usually goes along with the situation without pushing back. Boris spends more and more time at Theo’s house and befriends Larry and Xandra, who treat him as part of the family. The drug-addicted Larry is a much softer and looser person than the former alcohol-addicted Larry, and Theo appreciates the difference.

The chapter ends on a happy note with an elaborate meal, the result of Larry’s generosity, and Boris’s thankful, hopeful toast. It’s a twisted version of the perfect American family, but it’s all they have, and this light, merry moment, like a colorful photograph, will be etched in Theo’s and Boris’s memories.