Tag Archives: Markus Zusak

I am the Messenger: Little things matter

     

In Markus Zusak’s I am the Messenger the reader is presented with the argument that we determine the course of our lives not only in grand decisions about where we live, or what our occupation might be, but also in the smallest of actions – buying icecream for a stranger or reading to a friend. While the novel seems intent on driving home this message of “little things matter,” it seems to me that in doing so it overwrites the stronger thematic messages of the narrative: that choices require intention and bravery; that close relationships demand not just rote participation, but sustained attention; and that presumed satisfaction with our lives does not, in fact, guarantee we are living with our fullest integrity, our greatest enthusiasm.

That the novel doesn’t itself seem clear about its argument matters less given that the arguments about choice come through all the same. And perhaps it’s just this reader that would rather attention be paid to the complexities of “will” and the limitations of our histories, than to platitudes like “little things matter.”

I’m again impressed with Zusak’s sincerity in arguing for the importance of stories in understanding our lives and our relationships with others. I was a little irritated with the heavy handed metafiction of the past few pages, if only because it appears there for the first time, and reads as if he couldn’t quite work out how to end the novel. *spoiler* I was also irritated with the neat ending between Ed and Audrey – far too pat for the complexity of his character development.

All that said, a hugely engaging plot, a great sense of humour, and an accessible thematic landscape good for young adults, but also for those in the grip of a twenty something (code: me) searching for what it might all mean and how I might go about living with intention and sincerity. A good read.

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Filed under Book I'll Forget I Read

The Book Thief: Devasting (and beautiful)

Mark Zusak’s The Book Thief hurts to read. In the most straightforward way it’s the story of a young German girl and the town that raises her before and during World War Two. It is also the story of the power of words to save people from the insanity of isolation and the power of words to ignite and fuel beliefs that argue for dominance and destruction.

I have had over the course of this latest reading project opportunities to consider why I read, what effects reading has on me and what reading cannot accomplish. The Book Thief adds to this ongoing conversation I’m having with myself about the utility and responsibility of reading by arguing that it is in sharing stories – reading to others; showing others the painful and glorious experiences we’ve had; giving away, stealing and borrowing stories – that something like a common humanity emerges. I know that will sound trite, and perhaps it is, but on finishing The Book Thief I feel, well, simply overwhelmed with a kind of reverence for story-telling. And so if I fall into cliche I do so out of a helplessness for other words that might convey the power of this story in particular, but of stories – for me, at least – entirely.

I need not give anything away about this book – not comments on the at first irritating, but later endearing narrator, nor comments on the unexpected setting; neither comments on the pace of plot or the fully realized characters – because the narrator routinely tells the reader what is coming. And maybe it is this foreknowledge, this preparation, that makes the story so devastating. The recognition as you lie, sobbing your way through the final chapters, that the story, to be true, could only end this way. But that knowing the outcome doesn’t affect the imperative to read and hear the whole story. That you read because you must know not what happened, but how and why. And that the justifications and explanations will never be satisfactory, that you will want to write another, a happier, ending, even while you recognize that a neater ending would be somehow worse. 

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Erin's Favourite Books, Fiction, Young Adult Fiction