Monday, April 28, 2008

The Book Thief

It's been a month of Markus Zusak. I finished *The Book Thief* a few weeks ago and am now reading his *I Am the Messenger*. I was startled at the night-and-day differences between the voice of *The Book Thief* vs. *I Am the Messenger*, but I'll save that for the next post. This post will be devoted solely to *The Book Thief*: an honor I think it surely deserves.
I actually didn't like *The Book Thief* very much at first; in fact, not until I was well over halfway through the book did I experience a massive shift from ambivalence to awe. I almost didn't type that last sentence because I don't want to sway potential readers away from giving it a try, but I also want to assure them that, even if it takes a while to get into, it's well worth the effort.
OK, I can't believe I've typed all that and still haven't described the book. Sorry. It takes place in Hitler's Germany, with chapters alternating between first and third person narration. The third person narration tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a little girl who is adopted by a German couple after her mother becomes unable to care for her. The novel's title comes from Liesel's habit of stealing books and the importance that each title has in her life. The first person narration is by Death. You heard me right. Death is the narrator. In the author section at the end of the book, Markus Zusak explains how he originally had given Death a cruel persona, but changed his mind and instead made Death a sympathetic narrator. This device is what made the book so shattering to me. The idea of Death being tormented by all of his "work" during the Holocaust years is really haunting; in fact, at one point Death explains that he is "haunted by humans." Beautifully tragic, no?
The other element of *The Book Thief* that I loved was Zusak's use of figurative language. He combines metaphors and switches up images and descriptions to create new ways of explaining and looking at feelings, events, and objects. He also uses colors to lend additional meaning and feeling to events and people (hello, F. Scott Fitzgerald!).
Anyway, my point to all this is: Read it. Love it? Think it's too contrived? Let me know!
4 out of 4 Bananas
Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2010 Nominee

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Good Earth and Postmortem! Or, It's Cool to Mix Up Your Genres.

Over break I finished reading the Pearl S. Buck classic *The Good Earth*. I've been loving Chinese-related literature for the past few years, so it was only a matter of time before I read this one. It's the story of Wang Lung, a poor Chinese peasant who relies on the "good earth" for everything: his house, his food, and his work. He makes a special plea for a wife to the local rich family, and is given a servant woman named O-Lan. *The Good Earth* is the story of Wang Lung and his family throughout their multi-generational transition from poor farmers to wealthy city dwellers. It examines the importance of land and the inevitability of self-destruction as one moves away from valuing and respecting the land to valuing money, high society, and the acquisition of material possessions. My only problem with the novel is its lack of redeeming female characters. Wang Lung's wife O-Lan is regularly described as having "dull eyes" and having the dim intelligence of a farm animal. The rest of the women are lazy, greedy, slothlike, or shrill nags. On the other hand, there really aren't many redeeming male characters, either! So, in spite of a lack of likeable characters (or perhaps because of?), *The Good Earth* is a fascinating, riveting read and and I give it
4 out of 4 bananas.
So after *The Good Earth*, I was in need of a good, fast-paced, Spring Break read. I turned to Patricia Cornwall's *Postmortem* ,recommended to me by Mrs. Cabaj. It was just what the Spring Break doctor ordered! I whiled away my vacation hours reading about Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta, who ended up being instrumental to the capture of a dangerous serial killer. I finished it last night and was cringing as I turned the pages of the book's final scenes. Scary and fun, for sure! Sometimes you just need a little brain candy, you know? Thanks, Mrs. Cabaj!

3 out of 4 bananas.