The Book Thief

By Marcus Zusak

It’s just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids – as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

 

I recently joined a book club and this was our first pick. I’ve heard about this book for quite a long time, but never picked it up, probably owing to my aversion to all things WW-II era. I was quite surprised by how much I liked this book.

Most of the criticism from what I read online has to do with whether or not you liked the narrator. I loved that Zusak used Death as a narrator. Quite unusual and I thought it really worked for this book. I also like Death’s perspective and the way that he talked.

I loved the writing. Loved, loved the writing. Absolutely beautiful from end to end. This is one of those books that, once you get done dissecting the rich story, you can spend forever unpacking the language.

The book’s form was also very creative. You have a regular written text that tells the story, a secondary sort of text that also functions like a footnote or an aside, plus some handwritten books with pictures.

One thing I also found interesting about this book is that, because it covers such a long period of time, the story feels almost more episodic or a chronicle than a plot-driven book, yet another rarity in publishing.

It’s hard to really discuss this book too much as the book makes heavy use of foreshadowing and realizes a lot about the end and the future events right at the beginning, but I’ll just end with saying that I’m really glad I read this book and I’ll definitely be adding this to my stable of “books I always recommend to people”.

Next up: watching the movie

 

Have you read this book or seen the movie? What did you think of one or both?

The Madame

The Madame by Julianna Baggott

West Virginia, 1924: Alma works in a hosiery mill where the percussive roar of machinery has far too long muffled the engine that is her heart. When Alma’s husband decides that they should set out to find their fortune in Florida, Alma has little choice but to leave her three children and ailing mother behind. But when Alma is then abandoned at a Miami dock, she is suddenly forced to make her own way in the world. With the help of a gentle giantess and an opium-addicted prostitute, Alma reclaims her children from the orphanage and forges ahead with an altogether new sort of family. As an act of survival, she chooses to run a house of prostitution, a harvest that relies on lust and weakness in men, of which “the world has a generous, unending supply.”

The Madam is the story of a house of sin. It is here where Alma’s children will learn everything there is to know about “love and loss, sex and betrayal.” Based on the real life of the author’s grandmother, The Madame is a tale of epic proportions, one that will haunt readers long after its stunning conclusion.

This is a very whispery, dreaming book, as if you could somehow manage to stay in the place in between sleep and wake. This book was very engrossing, like being wrapped in a warm blanket you can’t get free of, but don’t really want to anyway. Though I must say, this book was quite sad. I am the type of person that gets upset when other people get “stuck” or have difficult problems they are unable to solve or circumvent. I just want to fix everyone’s lives and it weighs on me when I can’t, even if the problem has nothing at all to do with me. This book was sort of like a never-ending moment of that. Everyone has a difficult, imperfect life, and they struggle, struggle, struggle through every single day of their lives. 

The prose was very beautiful and skillfully done. Though combined with the way the story was written, it felt as if everything were covered in a thin gauze, rather than something visceral you could touch. It was just very dreamy and floated away when you tried to grab hold of it.

This is the first book I have read by this author and I’m interested in checking out more. Hopefully they won’t be quite as sad to me!