So Markus Zusak's been on International Bestseller lists for years. This weekend I found out why.
I truly 'got into this book' one I 'got into the voice of death' - a truly unique narrative style - yet unfortunately not one inextricably linked to the Nazi movement therein, and apart from the odd zieg heil, could be heard in any other (modern) conflict.
Why did I feel like I was reading a warning manual rather than a piece of historical fiction?
The adventures of Liesel Meminger were particularly poignant for me; my grandmother, also Liesel, was about the same age, in the same location and living through very similar circumstances in mandated Hitler Youth - albeit (as far as I am aware), she was not hiding a Jew in the basement, much as I would've been exceptionally proud had she done so. I don't think she had a basement though.
An aspect I particularly liked of The Book Thief's life, was there was no one 'bad-guy' -
not every German enjoyed their marching and ration book for 'the cause'. The English struck fear during the raids at night as much as the domestic parades of captives during the day, or overzealous saluting neighbours. Growing up hearing both sides of the story (my Liesel married an English soldier), I think Zusak has handled complex motivations sensitively and with truth. Threats of the time came from all angles, including neighbourhood bullies and overbearing school mistresses.
Normal life prevailed in extraordinary circumstances. Until there was no normal any more.
The futility of war (and genocide) was a particularly well expressed theme - everything else serving to reinforce this **woefully politically overlooked** point. Were more books like this read by more people, do you think, would people simply decide not to engage with warmongering, fearmongering death merchants known as international governments?
And there I was promising not to get all political... Shoot.
I will always have a tear for Rudy, and Liesel's Standover Man, every time I hear an accordion's sigh... and every other soul Zusak's narrator encounters in such circumstances, now and in the future.
We don't have to vote for a surveillance state, we're entering into one voluntarily.
My hands down favourite thing about Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, is that it was going to be part of a massive national US summer reading program. And then they banned it. It's almost like the principal read the book, recognised himself, and then... whoops. The very fact schools are picking up on this, is intriguing to me. They should get V for Vendetta whilst they are at it. And a few more besides...
You can read more about all that here: http://www.writerswrite.com/cory-doctorows-ya-book-little-brother-banned-in-florida-61220141 - and watch a fantastic response from the author himself. This is the reason I picked up this book, and the reason I will be recommending it so thoroughly. Even if this does put me on some sort of 'list'. You're probably on that same list just for reading this review.
Welcome to the club.
You can download a FREE copy for yourself here: http://craphound.com/littlebrother/download/ Yep, gratis. And you know what, Doctorow himself has licensed that to happen, which he explains in great detail in his forward. Once data is out there, its public. I thoroughly appreciate his reminder of this, and progressive attitude working with the market rather than trying to dominate it. If only major publishers would follow suit (and the reason www.onetreefamily.com has gone indie.. check them out).
In essence, his story is about data control, and how this can be (is) used to control, predict and manipulate population behaviour. The trouble is, these days we give all this data voluntarily - every purchase, every swipe, every check-in, every FB share.
In the wake of terrorism (cough), who are we really left feeling most vulnerable to?
LB works on many levels - It will appeal to teens, written in an accessible first person narrative and technology heavy. And then there's the obligatory love interest (but hey, the guy's 17, it's a miracle he keeps on topic as much as he does). But it also works for adults, even those of us over 25 (and Marcus Yarrow, you can definitely trust ME)...
This perhaps should be *compulsory* school reading (much as I unschool my children and don't believe in any compulsory/prohibitive curriculum, many of the reasons are outlined well in LB's pages in fact).
There's certainly enough nods and references in there to get you googling.. And THINKING. And that's the mark of a good piece of social fiction or commentary - which the author well achieves.
Download it, then buy it and read it again. Then give it to a young person you know, and get them to give it to an old person. The more people critically evaluate the circumstances we find ourselves in, the better chance we have of keeping our eyes open.
And if they're watching you, watch them right back... ;-)
Evocative Escapism... Literally.
Shantaram was, for me, one of those rare books that held the power of true transportation - and for that reason, I will always love and remember my (vicarious) adventures in Gangland India...
The tales of Lin (Gregory David Roberts) are by his accounts, entirely true. Major criticism levelled at Shantaram elsewhere centres on the near impossibility of this fact, but isn't that the point of fiction? To take you into another life, another way of looking at the world? The author totally lives up to this brief, even if he had to escape multiple prisons (mental and physical) and war zones to do so.
Shantaram is truly epic, with sweeping scope - which to be honest, I feel was so vast, I would have appreciated a little *more* towards the end. How did Lin manage to write, publish and promote the book whilst being one of Australia's most wanted men?
There must (as always) be more to the story, which perhaps fizzled somewhat in the caves of Afghanistan (but then, war is always a full stop for me personally) - or perhaps it was in the umpteenth different description of love-interest Karla Saraanen's eyes? (And every other person he met... if you like eyes, you'll love Shantaram).
I forgive it all of this. For every smile of his friend Prabaker, for every beautiful simile and metaphor (of which there are many)... for making me feel like, for a few short days, I was in Mumbai in all her heaving glory.
It's not a light read, but let yourself be moved, and Shantaram will take you.
My children and I love this colourful and thoughtful book, which opens with the most beautiful dedication. "For it is through the darkness of the evening that we are able to see the stars. Without this darkness, we would never get to experience the beauty of the cosmos, or understand the little bits of light in life that shine through the void."
That alone should be enough to tell you that this book is something different.
My two under 4's adore the illustrations - humorous and bright yet with complex layers and meanings, which are brought forth in discussions the concepts explored stimulates. Its a gentle read but with depth and perception, a refreshing change from the slough of gender specific "children's books" with garish explosions or saccharin platitudes.
A fantastic example of #WhyWeNeedDiverseBooks which I'm sure will prove of interest to all ages, and grow with the reader in their understanding of collective consciousness. After all, we are all connected.
Check out the 5 star reviews of #1 Parenting Bestseller, The Family Bed, on Amazon UK http://amzn.to/1moSkAE
Steve McCurry's photographs
The stunning Art of Literature
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