Tag Archives: World War II

The Book Thief (Must Read)

by Markus Zusak

Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Copyright © 2006

 

“The Book Thief” is a dramatic and amazingly haunting story of ordinary people in Germany during World War II. The perspectives of this tale, however, are anything but ordinary.

 

Death, it is everywhere. Dying of old age or sickness is bad enough, but oh so often humans die at the hands of other humans. It is a wonder we haven’t exterminated ourselves. In this story we are taken to a time and a place where this had never been truer – Germany during World War II. It is in this hellish place that the personification of Death chooses to show why we (humans) are worth the effort, and it is through the story of a young girl.

 

Liesel is on a train with her mother and brother. They are bound for the town of Molching near Munich where the two siblings will be left with new foster parents. On the train ride Liesel’s brother dies and she and her mother are forced to get off at the next stop to arrange for his burial. It was in this place that she stole the first of many books.

 

After her brother is buried they board another train to finish their trip. Liesel is left with her foster parents, the Hubermann’s. Rosa Hubermann is a loud woman with a lethal mouth and Hans Hubermann is a quiet man with a kind heart. It is in this home where Liesel learns to read, and it is here that she learns that words can have great power for good and for bad. Poor Liesel will see both first hand as her life intertwines with that of a Jewish street fighter, the German Jesse Owens, various fanatical Germans, and of course her foster parents.

 

“The Book Thief” is a different take on an often written about time period. Many Holocaust novels seem to be written from the viewpoint of a Jewish person; however Zusak’s protagonist is a young German girl who is displayed as something of a heroine. This is interesting to me, because we generally like to pigeonhole Germans from that era as being horrible people who were rabid supporters of “the Fuhrer.” Zusak puts some cracks in that stereotype, to help us see that there were those who were likely very good people, who were caught up in a very dangerous situation. 

 

I also thought that the author pulled off an interesting twist in perspective, by making the narrator of this tale be the death personified, the grim reaper if you will. I don’t believe in the immortality of the soul as the author suggests it at times; however as a fictional storytelling device it works well as a way to insert an outside/otherworldly view or opinion. I’m not sure if this has been done before, but I genuinely liked it. I think the story would have been good without it, but it is such an emotional tale that it helps give the reader some distance and some foreshadowing to prepare them for what is to come.

 

Though this book was written for young adults, some books transcend age limitations. “The Book Thief” tells a story that portrays what is beautiful and what is ugly about the human creature, and the way in which we use words. This book should be on the must read list of anyone 13 to 113.

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Filed under Historical, Young Adult Fiction

Snow Falling on Cedars

By David Guterson

Published by Harcourt Brace

Copyright © 1994

San Piedro, Washington is a sea worn island of tall wild cedars and well tended strawberry fields. These things in addition to the islands weather, isolation, and confinement mold the personality of its residents. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is at once a romance, mystery, and historical drama that, for some, will elicit reflection and strong emotions.

Hatsue and Ishmael grew up together on San Piedro Island, and slowly a secretive and complicated relationship developed between them. In the 1930’s and 40’s interracial relationships of any kind were publicly difficult. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and thrust America into World War II any naïve hopes that Ishmael or Hatsue had of making a life together shattered.

Over 10 years later, the two are thrust back into contact. Ishmael now runs the small town newspaper that his father started and he is covering a rare event in Amity Harbor, a murder trial. The defendant is Hatsue’s husband Kabuo Miyamoto; he is accused of killing another man, a former friend, over the ownership of his parents’ old strawberry farm.

The start of Kabuo’s trial coincides with a massive snowstorm which incapacitates the town. However this storm is also going to lead Ishmael to a fortuitous discovery and a moral dilemma. Will he want to share what he learns?

David Guterson has written a story of love and war, and pride and prejudice, that is at times ethereal and then plummets to the harsh and occasionally indelicate.  His descriptions of San Piedro and its surrounding waters are heaven like for anyone who can visualize them – misty and green, white and windy, and the occasional sun dappled strawberry field. These scenes are contrasted against flashbacks of a dead man at sea, an autopsy, war time in the Pacific and European theaters, Japanese interment in American, and the prejudices that existed on both sides.  In addition there are unnecessarily descriptive sex scenes (which rarely ever add anything to a good story) and the possibly necessary, however unenjoyable, profanity laced wartime conversations.

The author adroitly tells his story in and out of flashbacks which would normally turn me off, but he fills them with such meaningful detail that you can’t help but to see the point and the beauty of it. In this way he rounds out so many characters; it is actually difficult at times to tell who the main characters are. He spends so much time with so many characters expressing their physicality, motivations, idiosyncrasies, relationships, and etc. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is just an extremely well crafted story filled with repression, anger, and desire that captivated my attention.

 

1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

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Filed under Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, Strong Sense of Place, War

Aleutian Sparrow

Aleutian Sparrow

By Karen Hesse

Published by McElderry Books

Copyright © 2003

The Aleutian Islands in Southwester Alaska can be a forbidding and dangerous place at times. But to the Aleuts it is home. In 1942 they were taken from their home, as the Japanese were invading the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. The U.S. Government forcibly moved them to Southwestern Alaska to supposedly keep them safe while the war raged.

Southwestern Alaska was very different from their home on the islands. The landscape was different, the weather was different, and the people were different. In their new home they lived in worse poverty and sickness than they had ever known in the Aleutians; the government provided worse for them than they did prisoners of war.

When the Aleut’s finally were allowed to go home they found that their home had been destroyed not just from the Japanese and the bombing, but also by American troops who were supposed to be protecting their home.

Karen Hesse has written a moving fictitious poetic narrative of these events. Hesse writes from the viewpoint of a young girl named Vera who is caught up in the tragedy as a member of an Aleut village. It takes a little effort to get used to understanding this story written in unrhymed verse, but this form really facilitates the emotions – the sorrow, despair, courage, and strength of Vera and her people. This is a wonderful work of multicultural Historical Fiction. Well worth the read for anyone 12 and up.

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Filed under Community, Cultural, Family, Historical, Poetry, Strong Sense of Place, Young Adult Fiction