Friday, November 14, 2008

Travel back in time

TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney
Such a great book! It is one of my all-time favorites. A book that has the magic to allure you with the wonder of time traveling back to a simpler time. Finney, with meticulous detail and the support of numerous old photographs, recreates New York in 1882. We and the main character, Si Morley, marvel as we walk over the old streets, see places where one day great skyscrapers will stand, gaze on a traffic jam of hansom cabs, and discover the arm of the Statue of Liberty sitting in Madison Square awaiting the rest of its body. There’s a mystery, suspense and wonderful writing. You must read this!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

When Death Tells a Story You Better Listen

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Death has been extremely busy in World War II Germany, so he is surprised when his attention is caught by a young girl. He first notices her when he comes to pick up the spirit of her brother and sees her steal her first book (The Grave Digger's Handbook). This girl Liesel Meminger leaves such an impression that he feels compelled to share her story - and it's some story. Liesel is an illiterate daughter of communists who is placed in a foster home by her mother. Her foster parents, Hans, a kind painter and accordian player and Rosa Hubermann who is quick with sharp word (she especially enjoys calling people Saumensch-filthy pigs) give her a loving home. Hans also gives her a gift, one that will sustain her through the difficulties that lie ahead, he teaches her how to read. Along with her friend Rudy, who once painted himself black and pretended to be Jesse Owens as a tribute, Liesel tries to survive the tumultuous times. Faced with hunger, bombings, book burnings, Nazis, fear and suspicion, Liesal steals and reads books to cope. Then things become even more difficult and dangerous when her foster parents hide a Jewish man, Max in their basement.

The narrative style of the novel is interesting, with plenty of asides and foreshadowing. The story is heart wrenching at times and heartwarming at others and you can't help rooting for the strong, yet vulnerable Liesel. Quirky and intelligent, it is a great read. Interestingly this book was first marketed in the United States as a young adult book, but quickly became popular with adults as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The past haunts the present

THOSE WHO SAVE US by Jenna Blum
Family secrets of Nazi Germany are at the core of this powerful first novel told in two narratives that alternate between New Heidelberg, Minnesota, in the present, and the small town of Weimar near Buchenwald during World War II. Trudy is a professor of German history in Minnesota, where she's teaching a seminar on women's roles in Nazi Germany and conducting interviews with Germans about how they're dealing with what they did during the war. But her mother, Anna, won't talk about it, not even to her own daughter. Trudy knows, she remembers, that Anna was mistress to a big Nazi camp officer. Why did she do it? Was he Trudy's father?
A great book for discussion groups and a wonderful study in how our past influences our present.