When Grandma approaches Thomas in the bakery, she asks if he is Thomas from Dresden. Though he tries to deny it, she knows it’s him. He reveals he no longer speaks. She asks if he became a sculptor like he dreamed, and he shows his “No” tattoo. Thomas asks if Grandma will pose for him, writing the question in German. Grandma realizes they’ve been speaking in English all afternoon. She agrees to using German. 

Thomas’s apartment is full of animals. Grandma removes her clothes, and Thomas scrutinizes her. He poses her body. The next few days continue in the same pattern. It becomes evident that Thomas has actually been sculpting Anna.

As the weeks progress, Thomas touches Grandma for longer times as he poses her. He writes that he’s trying to find a compromise. Grandma interjects in her letter here that she’s including this part because she knows Oskar will understand, and he’s the only one she trusts. Grandma realizes that when Thomas touches her, he’s trying to sculpt her so he can fall in love with her. Eventually, touching becomes sex. Describing the scene, Grandma asks why anyone makes love.

Grandma asks Thomas to marry her. He displays both his palms to her so that they reveal “Yes” and “No.” They agree never to have children. They marry the next day and never speak in German again.

Analysis: Chapter 4

Grandma and Thomas’s accounts of their reunion do not quite match, raising questions about whose account is the more reliable. Because Thomas does not acknowledge that he once knew Grandma in Dresden, not to mention the strangeness of his account, it is likely that Grandma’s more detailed version offers the truth. Thomas does not appear to have a desire to lie but rather a desire to avoid examining the truth. As seen in Chapter 2, when he’s uncomfortable, Thomas uses ambiguity to maintain distance from his present life, and his incomplete account of his engagement again shows this desire for distance. Similarly, his sculpting of Anna while looking at Grandma demonstrates his willingness to bend the truth in order to live more comfortably with his emotions. In contrast, Grandma states that she trusts Oskar, which means she’s willing to show him the truth even when, as is the case of her love story with Thomas, it’s not particularly beautiful. For reasons not yet clear, Grandma has not turned to fantasy to process her grief, choosing instead to focus on reality.

Although Grandma clearly plays an important role in this novel, we still haven’t learned her name. Instead, she has become defined by the roles she plays in other people’s lives. Of course, Oskar thinking of his grandma just as “Grandma” is a completely normal thing for a nine-year-old to do. His understanding of Grandma only in terms of her role in his life mirrors how Grandma sees her own grandmother at that point in her own story, as a loving fixture in her life, not necessarily having a story of her own. However, this chapter makes clear that ever since Thomas met Grandma, he has thought of her only in terms of her relationship to those around her, as “Anna’s sweet little sister” or as the mother of his son, which reveals that Thomas doesn’t see Grandma as an individual person. At the time of their reunion, Thomas understands Grandma only through her relationship to Anna, which explains his attempt to physically sculpt Grandma into Anna. He sees Grandma’s existence in his life as reliant on Anna’s and therefore tries to ignore the differences between them.