Book choice for August 2009

The Book Thief [suggested by Michelle Nithsdale]

front cover

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak was the best-selling debut literary novel of the year 2007, selling over 400,000 copies. The author is a prize-winning writer of children's books, and this, his first novel for adults, proved to be a triumphant success. The book is extraordinary on many levels: moving, yet restrained, angry yet balanced - and written with the kind of elegance found all too rarely in fiction these days. The book's narrator is nothing less than Death itself, regaling us with a remarkable tale of book burnings, treachery and theft. The book never forgets the primary purpose of compelling the reader's attention, yet which nevertheless is able to impart a cogent message about the importance of words, particularly in those societies which regard the word as dangerous (the book is set during the Nazi regime, but this message is all too relevant in many places in the world today).

Nine-year-old Liesel lives with her foster family on Himmel Street during the dark days of the Third Reich. Her Communist parents have been transported to a concentration camp, and during the funeral for her brother, she manages to steal a macabre book: it is, in fact, a gravediggers' instruction manual. This is the first of many books which will pass through her hands as the carnage of the Second World War begins to hungrily claim lives. Both Liesel and her fellow inhabitants of Himmel Street will find themselves changed by both words on the printed page and the horrendous events happening around them.

Despite its grim narrator, The Book Thief is, in fact, a life-affirming book, celebrating the power of words and their ability to provide sustenance to the soul. Interestingly, the Second World War setting of the novel does not limit its relevance: in the 20th century, totalitarian censorship throughout the world is as keen as ever at suppressing books (notably in countries where the suppression of human beings is also par for the course) and that other assault on words represented by the increasing dumbing-down of Western society as cheap celebrity replaces the appeal of books for many people, ensures that the message of Marcus Zusak's book could not be more timely. It is, in fact, required reading - or should be in any civilised country. [review by Barry Forshaw on amazon.com]

About the Author

Australian author Markus Zusak grew up hearing stories about Nazi Germany, about the bombing of Munich and about Jews being marched through his mother's small, German town. He always knew it was a story he wanted to tell.

"We have these images of the straight-marching lines of boys and the 'Heil Hitlers' and this idea that everyone in Germany was in it together. But there still were rebellious children and people who didn't follow the rules and people who hid Jews and other people in their houses. So there's another side to Nazi Germany," said Zusak in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

At the age of 30, Zusak has already asserted himself as one of today's most innovative and poetic novelists. With the publication of The Book Thief, he is now being dubbed a 'literary phenomenon' by Australian and U.S. critics. Zusak is the award-winning author of four previous books for young adults: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl, and I Am the Messenger, recipient of a 2006 Printz Honor for excellence in young adult literature. He lives in Sydney.

The above taken from his entry on Random House's author pages, Zusak also has a Wikipedia page.

 

Shortlisted for this month

The nominator can bring one, two, or three books to be chosen by the group (or mandated in the case of only one book being selected).  This month, Michelle also brought the following selections:

Starter for Ten

Starter for Ten

Is David Nicholls' Starter for Ten a throwback? Many readers look back with nostalgia to a recent golden age of comic writing, when David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury and Tom Sharpe were producing some achingly funny work, with brilliantly realised characters. But Nicholls' sharp-as-nails novel has all the comic acumen of his great predecessors (along with their frequently-utilised university campus milieu) and, like Lodge and co., Nicholls writes real characters, not just boobies suitable only for pratfalls and sexual embarrassment. So even though the situations may often be ridiculous, we're still engaged by the protagonists.

Here, they are university student Brian Jackson and aspiring actress Alice Harbinson. Brian has arrived at his place of learning with a stronger desire than the acquisition of knowledge: he's going to be a star of TV's hottest quiz. But his progress on "The Challenge" is somewhat stymied by his growing desire for the beguiling Alice, struggling to make her mark as an actress. And as obstacles impede their affair, Brian becomes more and more convinced that only overwhelming success on the quiz show will win her.

What makes this novel such a delight, apart from the strongly drawn characters (both major and minor) is the coruscating dialogue: Nicholls writes comic dialogue like a dream, and his targets are many and varied: the idiocies of love and sex, the ludicrous pursuit of meaningless TV celebrity, fat cat businessmen lining their pockets - you name it, and it's probably here; Starter for Ten is a panoply of modern Britain with all its glories and excesses writ large. Nicholls wrote the third series of the hit TV series Cold Feet, which is as good a demonstration of his credentials as one could wish for. But Starter for Ten is his best work; there are no false notes struck by miscast actors, just prose that has a comic energy not often encountered these days. [review by Barry Forshaw on amazon.com]

It's quite common for a novel to have a Wikipedia page. This one has its own entire website.

About the Author

David Nicholls has a Livejournal blog which kicks off with a short biog:
David Nicholls trained as an actor before making the switch to writing. His TV credits include the third series of Cold Feet, Rescue Me, and I Saw You. He was co-writer for the film adaptation of Simpatico, which starred Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges and Sharon Stone. David's bestselling first novel, STARTER FOR TEN, was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club in 2004. David wrote the screenplay for the film version, released in 2006, starring James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall and Dominic Cooper. He also wrote And When Did you Last See Your Father (2007), with Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth and a much-praised modern adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles (2008), with Gemma Arterton for the BBC.

His latest novel, ONE DAY, will be published on 11th June.

So, a slightly OUT-OF-DATE Livejournal blog then. He also has a Wikipedia entry.

Atonement

Atonement

Atonement is Ian McEwan's ninth novel and his first since the Booker Prize-winning Amsterdam in 1998. But whereas Amsterdam was a slim, sleek piece, Atonement is a more sturdy, ambitious work, allowing McEwan more room to play, think and experiment.

We meet 13-year-old Briony Tallis in the summer of 1935, as she attempts to stage a production of her new drama The Trials of Arabella to welcome home her elder, idolised brother Leon. But she soon discovers that her cousins, the glamorous Lola and the twin boys Jackson and Pierrot, aren't up to the task, and directorial ambitions are abandoned as more interesting preoccupations come onto the scene. The charlady's son Robbie Turner appears to be forcing Briony's sister Cecilia to strip in the Fountain and sends her obscene letters; Leon has brought home a dim chocolate magnate keen for a war to promote his new "Army Amo" bar; and upstairs Briony's migraine-stricken mother Emily keeps tabs on the house from her bed. Soon, secrets emerge that change the lives of everyone present...

The interwar upper-middle-class setting of the book's long, masterfully sustained opening section might recall Virginia Woolf or Henry Green, but as we move forward - eventually to the turn of the 21st century - the novel's central concerns emerge, and McEwan's voice becomes clear, even personal. For at heart, Atonement is about the pleasures, pains and dangers of writing, and perhaps even more, about the challenge of controlling what readers make of your writing. McEwan shouldn't have any doubts about readers of Atonement: this is a thoughtful, provocative and at times moving book that will have readers applauding. [review by Alan Stewart on amazon.com]

The novel has its own Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Ian McEwan was born on 21 June 1948 in Aldershot, England. He studied at the University of Sussex, where he received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970. He received his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

McEwan's works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix F�mina Etranger (1993) for The Child in Time; and Germany's Shakespeare Prize in 1999. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). He was awarded a CBE in 2000. In 2006, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Saturday and his novel On Chesil Beach was named Galaxy Book of the Year at the 2008 British Book Awards where McEwan was also named Reader's Digest Author of the Year.

McEwan lives in London and is currently writing a new novel. His most recently published work is For You, a libretto.

The above taken from McEwan's website, he also has the ubiquitous Wikipedia entry.

 

Previous Months' Book Choices

July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006