Summary and Analysis
PART II Chapter 5. Badr al-Dine
In Las Vegas, Theo becomes depressed and feels isolated. His father’s idea of sobriety is drinking beer instead of liquor; Xandra neglects her dog, Popper, and does not like Theo, whom she views as an intruder; and the expensive but empty house in which they live has no close neighbors or public transportation.
At school, Theo and a boy named Boris become fast friends. Boris nicknames Theo “Potter” because of Theo’s nerdy appearance. Boris’ father neglects him much like Theo’s father and Xandra neglect Theo. The boys benefit from their constant companionship. Theo observes Boris’ father’s erratic behavior, which alternates between physical affection and physical abuse. One day, he hugs Boris and Theo and the next, he brutally beats Boris with a cane. Boris appears to take all of this in stride, which Theo finds both unsettling and inspiring. Boris befriends Theo’s father and is able to understand and communicate with him in ways that Theo cannot. The two boys begin to drink very heavily, becoming violently drunk at times.
Forced to move to Las Vegas with his father and Xandra, Theo is challenged yet again to survive another deep blow to any sense of personal security and stability in his life since the museum bombing. Because his father’s house is so far removed from the inhabited Las Vegas suburbs, Theo finds himself both literally and figuratively isolated in the desert. He is emotionally marooned to the point that he questions how he has come to be in such a strange place where no one loves him. He is hyper-aware of his situation but unable to influence his own fate.
The chapter’s title, “Badr al-Dine,” refers to the name Boris was given when he was following the teachings of Islam. “Badr” means “full moon” and was bestowed upon Boris because he seemed to bring light wherever he went. However, a full moon doesn’t have its own source of illumination; instead it reflects the sun’s light. Boris, during this time and for the rest of the novel, uses Theo as his source of light, inserting himself into Theo’s family and feeding off of Theo’s needs and resources. Through his friendship with Boris, Theo learns that he can no longer place his faith in anyone but himself, a lesson that he gleans from Boris’ will to survive.