Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Book Thief

There are two kinds of good books. The first is the kind where you read, remember for a while and then slowly forget...There comes a stage when all that you remember about the book was that it was good and you enjoyed reading it. And then, there's the other kind. The kind that becomes a part of you. When you think of these books, there is a sense of familiarity and more than that - a sense of belonging/ownership. And when you read a good book, you never know which category it is going to fall under. I hope the Book Thief falls under the latter. I wish there was a way to capture emotions and feeling and store them coz I like the way I am feeling right now and i want to remember this feeling when i think about this book later in my life.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was my final destination in the Orbis Terrarum Challenge. With this, I finish the 9 books by 9 different authors from 9 different countries. I don't think I will stop the challenge with this. I have loved reading books by authors from different countries and I think I am going to go on and add to my OT books.

This book is set in Germany around World War II - the second that I have read that is told from the non-jewish side (The first being "The Zookeeper's Wife (another fascinating book)). Germany is too wide an area to mention - the story is set in House number 33 on Himmel Street (Himmel = Heaven) in a town called Molching on the outskirts of Munich.But the street didn't quite live up to its name, considering it was one of the poor neighborhoods. But this house was to be the destination of 9 year old Liesel and her older brother. They were to be adopted by Rosa and Hans. The brother dies on the way, and at that moment Liesel becomes the "book thief" in an attempt to 'steal something back' and having the life of her brother stolen from her. This book describes the next 4 to 5 years of Liesel's life in 33, Himmel Street.

When I look back at my life to the stage when I was 9 till about I was 14, there's hardly anything that stands out. I guess my life could be described in less than a paragraph. The only emotion I remember knowing is Happiness. Well, I did have my ups and downs (like the time I didnt get the candy of my choice to distribute in school for my birthday)..but you get the idea pretty much. In contrast, Liesel saw more in those 4 years than most people expect to see in a lifetime. When the world around her was immersed in war..she was blissfully happy in her little cocoon - her papa, Rosa, Rudy (her BEST friend) and Max. She had everyone she wanted and her little world was complete.

Well, happiness doesn't last forever, especially during world war II in Germany.. more so because one of the components leading to the happiness is a Jew hiding in your basement.

If you haven't already figured it out by now.. I LOVED the book. The horrors of World War II with a touch of innonence and a lot of Charm. My favorite character - the narrator. The novelty of this book is that the narrator is Death himself - the soul collector. But not the grim, eerie, evil one..but one with a human touch! Sometimes sensitive, sometimes funny, always sincere to his work.. I am sure he has a little heart hidden somewhere.. How else could he be the most charming character in the book? He is Death, after all..
but he as this way of gives us information in those little notes in bold throughout the book and some of them are so endearing..(when you read the book you'll know what I mean!). And it is nice to know that Death doesn't enjoy his profession. It is a much better feeling to think of "him" as a charming man who is just doing his duty..but not really liking it. I particularly enjoyed the way he associated deaths with colors - his way of dealing with the monotony and sadness of his profession I guess..
I am so enthralled with the narrator that I could go on and on about it. I have this habit of making little notes of things I want to mention in the blog when I write about the book.. but this time, midway through the book, I had to stop myself from writing more about Death..coz that was turning into a mini-book by itself!

I would definitely think that this is a must-read for everyone out there!

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Bastard of Istanbul

Yet another eye-opener - This time, I got to know about the relations between Turkey and Armenia. The basis of this story is the political tension between Turkey and Armenia stemming from the Armenian Genocide that occured in 1915 (as claimed by Armenia. Turkey refuses to acknowledge the fact that such an event ever happened during the waning of the ottoman empire). To get a perspective: Turkey and Armenia share as land border as shown in the map below (Orange = Turkey, Green = Armenia).
Interestingly, the land border is closed today and no relations exist between Turkey and Armenia!(I definitely did not know that!).

This was yet another stop for me during my Orbis Terrarum Challenge. Though the book is set in Istanbul (the capital city of Turkey) and the author is Turkish, I would like to label this post as Turkey & Armenia because there's so much to learn about Armenian culture, the political beliefs and their way of life as well from this book.

An Armenian-American girl makes a trip to Istanbul in an attempt to discover herself by discovering her roots. She "invites herself" to her step dad's family home in Istanbul. No words could better describe the family she decides to stay with than her own:

"The family I am living with is quite interesting, a bit crazy but perhaps all families are. But there is something surreal here. Irrationality is part of the everyday rationale. I feel I am in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. One of the sisters is a ttoo artist; another sister is a clairvoyant; one other is a natural history teacher; and the fourth is an eccentric wallflower, or a full-time cuckoo, as Asya would say".

The Asya she talks about is (again in her own words) - "The Daughter of the household. A young woman with four mothers and no father. Quite a character - full of rage, satire, and wit. She makes a good Dostoyevski character". And she is the "Bastard of Istanbul".

I wonder about the title of the story though. Asya plays a role in the book..but in my opinion, she is just not the protagonist.. then why pick - the bastard of istanbul as the title? To give it a zangy-zesty name to attract the attention of the reader...or was there something deeper in the book that I missed?

Well, apart from that.. the book was a pretty interesting read. Through the lives of two teens - Armanoush and Asya, the author (Elif Shafak) gives us a glimpse at the Turkey-Armenia situation. The story has its roots in the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Without taking sides, the author describes how both sides react to "the event" even now. I guess that was a courageous move because she was accused by nationalist lawyers of "insulting Turkish identity". Luckily for her, the charges were dropped and the book was published world wide.

Well, if you do read the book and get back here or if you have already read the book.. I have a couple of questions for you..
** why THIS title for the book?
** what role does Baron Baghdassarian play?
Hmm... i'm still thinking..:)