Tag: Holocaust

The Book Thief – Mark Zusak (Take 2)

Posted 3 February, 2011 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 35 Comments

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Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Published: 2005 Pages: 550
Audio Time: 13 hr, 56 min
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 5/5

I’m kind of funny about recommending books to others; with the exception of my immediate family I rarely recommend books and even with family members I pick and choose books carefully. Because reading can be such a singular and personal activity I have to really know a person to recommend a book. But, I make an exception with The Book Thief. It is hands down The book I recommend more than any other—many of my coworkers have read the book, I’ve shoved my copy into so many friends and family members’ hands that my binding is broken and I’ve purchased a hard cover additional copy. True, this book isn’t for everyone (I’ll get to that), but I’ve never had someone I’ve loaned the book to tell me they didn’t like it.

Reason I [re]read it: For work book club—though more than half of us had already read it once before (see above).

Brief Synopsis: Liesel Menimger, a young German girl, is taken to live with foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, on Himmel Street during World War II.  Here she learns to cope with her brother’s recent death, her new mama and papa, secrets from her past, and the fast-changing and cruel world around her.  Cast of characters include little Liesel, Mama and Papa, Liesel’s friend Rudy, the visitor Max, and a very intrusive narrator.  See my original thoughts on The Book Thief for more of a plot summary than I’m willing to give now.  ;)

Thoughts in general: Um. I love this book? I love Leisel, and Papa, and Max…oh Max, and Rudy, and even Mama. I love the writing style, and while many find fault with this book for being overwritten or gimmicky, I disagree and say that’s what gives this book its charm. I love the narrator and how wise and creepy and compassionate he is all at the same time. I love how vividly graphic the descriptions are and how all the pieces are packed with emotion. I love how Zusak can make me cry and laugh with the same paragraph and how days, weeks, months, and years after reading the book I’m still thinking about the message put forth in the book. Of course there are few things I don’t love about the book, but what I do love outweighs them all.

How did reading compare to the first time: I worried that having read this book once already I would be bored with the story. And there were times when I felt impatient with some of the side stories. If I have one complaint about this book it’s the length, but I was able to read through those tangential parts more quickly. The narrator doesn’t try to keep too many things about the book a mystery (he says he doesn’t like mysteries at one point), but even with the foretelling I found myself an emotional wreck while re-reading The Book Thief. I went to Starbucks with a friend to read our books at lunch and I finally had to put my book down because I was constantly fighting back tears–at the beginning of the book! I finished the book before work one day, in my car, and I sobbed and sobbed. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but such is the nature of this one. Needless to say, I found a re-read just as, if not more, effectual the second time around and will continue to revisit this book in the future.

Special note on the audio: Because I was short on time I half read/half listened to The Book Thief.  I had started to listen to the audio once before (for funsies) but for some reason put it down and had forgotten about it.  The audio is narrated by Allan Corduner and he does a phenomenal job.  His voice was the perfect depiction for the role the narrator played within the novel but the accents were also wonderful.  He voiced Rosa Hubermann so vividly that it was difficult to not be frightened and enamored with her at he same time.  The audio is long, but I would recommend listening if you can’t get your hands on the book.  Though, there are some illustrations and other visual elements of the book you would miss out on. 

Because I half read/half listened to this book I was able to pay attention to my “reading” with each medium.  I was much more emotional while reading the book rather than listening.  I really enjoyed listening but it didn’t quite have the same emotional punch as reading the book did.  Perhaps this goes back to the Processing Reading discussion I had a few Sundays ago?  Nevertheless, the narration is one of the best I’ve listened to thus far.

Some parts that stood out:
    “At times, Liesel wondered if she should simply leave the woman alone, but Isla Hermann was too interesting, and hte pull of the books was too strong.  Once, words had rendered Liesel useless, but now, when she sat on the floor, with the mayor’s wife at her husband’s desk, she felt an innate sense of power. It happened every time she deciphered a new word or pieced together a sentence.
    She was a girl.
    In Nazy Germany.
    How fitting that she was discovering the power of words” (147).

    “She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half.
    Then a chapter.
    Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make use feel better.
   What good were the words?
   She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. “What good are the words?” (521).

True, not everyone loves this book as much as I do.  But I do recommend it. Highly recommend it.
Now that I’ve talked your ear off…

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Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

Posted 27 July, 2010 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 16 Comments

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Title: Man’s Search for Meaning
Author: Viktor E. Frankl
Published: 1946;  Pages: 154
Genre: Autobiography/Psychology
Rating: NA

I didn’t really know what to expect when my coworker chose Man’s Search for Meaning for our book club pick last month. I hadn’t heard of the book before and the short snippet I read on Amazon compared Viktor Frankl’s Holocaust narrative with Primo Levi’s. When I picked up my copy from Half Price Books, I noticed the subtitle was “An Introduction into Logotherapy.” What the heck?? What was this book really about—the Holocaust or Psychology?

Man’s Search for Meaning is divided into three sections. In the first and longest section, Frankl gives a short history of his experiences in the various Concentration Camps he was sent to during the war. In this section he also introduces his philosophical theory of the Will to Meaning. In the second , Logotherapy in a Nutshell, Frankl goes into more detail about his theory and what it means to have a will to meaning versus the will to pleasure (Freud) and the will to power (Nietzsche).  In the final section of Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl discusses the application of his theory in modern times and also a concept called Tragic Optimism.

This is a relatively short book and I was surprised how quickly I read it, but it was so different from what I’m used to reading and I was eager to discuss Frankl’s experiences and theories with my book club.  Frankl’s Holocaust narrative is quite different from the others that I’ve read in the past–he discusses many of the things that happened during his imprisonment in the camps but he talks about these things without emotion, as if he is looking at his experience from a purely clinical view.  It was very strange for me to read his experience as he seemed so removed, but I suppose it makes sense in light of his theories.  His experiences aren’t the central focus in this book–his central focus is Logotherapy.

What is Logotherapy?  Frankl purports that every man has a basic desire to gain meaning from his life.  Throughout his time in the Concentration Camps, Frankl focused his energies on the meaning of and in his life–when people began to lose sight of meaning in their lives, that is when they would begin to give up and perish.  Meaning comes from outside, not from within ourselves and there are three basic ways that one can find meaning in his life: Through works, through love, and through suffering.  The meaning that one finds in his life today may not be the same meaning as yesterday and of tomorrow because meaning changes based on circumstances.

The bottom line for me is that although I found this book interesting and I agree with it in theory, I think that Frankl is oftentimes overly optimistic in his thoughts–especially in the later parts of the book when Frankl discusses finding meaning in suffering (Tragic Optimism). I do agree that without meaning or a search for meaning in our lives we become lost and lose sight of what is important and where we want to direct ourselves. And when we are suffering we need to find some type of meaning otherwise that suffering is in vain. But when we are lost, I don’t think it is as simple as thinking to yourself “Oh, I just have to find some meaning!” Perhaps through work and maybe even some counseling you can come to this enlightened idea, but I don’t think it is as easy as simply changing one’s mindset (or maybe it is that easy, it just isn’t easy to change one’s mindset when one’s mindset is there…in the depths of despair).

I know I gave more details to the book than I normally do, but this isn’t the type of book that has plot spoilers.  :)  I found this to be a fascinating book and between my pencil underlining and the previous owner’s blue highlighting, I think we have every page covered in some type of marking or note.  It’s a short book that can be read in a single sitting if you have the time, and I think it’s the type of book that everyone can gain something from reading.  Man’s Search for Meaning made for a fascinating book club discussion and I’d highly recommend it as a book club selection.

Some sample quotes:

“I wanted to wake the poor man (having a nightmare).  Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do.  At that moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of camp which surrounded us. and to which I was about to recall him” (41).

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete” (76).

“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it” (82).

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.  What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment” (113).

What do you think about the idea of finding meaning in one’s life?

I am an Amazon Associate and if you purchase Man’s Search for Meaning or any other Amazon product through this review I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Thank you!


The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

Posted 26 October, 2009 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 41 Comments

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Title: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Author: John Boyne
Published: 2006 Pages: 216
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: 3/5

My poor brother has been asking me to read this book for months now (he’s thirteen). I’m always reluctant to borrow books from people because I know my turnaround will never be as quick as if I loan out a book. There’s so many I’ve obligated myself to read for challenges or for authors/publishers, not to mention the giant shelf of TBR books. I promised him I’d read BSP for the readathon and I’m so glad I did. When I texted him that I had finished the book he texted me back “it’s about time.” Yup, it sure is.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas begins with nine year old Bruno and his family who live in a nice big five story home in Berlin. Bruno’s father is a very important person, though, and has been asked by the Fury (Hitler) to take post at a strange camp in a far away place called Out-With (Auschwitz). Bruno is upset because the house is much smaller and his sister Gretel (a Hopeless Case) refuses to play with him. As Bruno begins to explore the new home, he discovers that there is a giant camp across the yard with lots of men and boys all wearing the same striped pyjamas. In his exploration, he meets a boy sitting by the fence of the camp whom Bruno befriends.

What I loved about The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the simplicity and innocence. Bruno doesn’t understand why his parents have moved, he doesn’t understand the camp beyond his home’s yard, and he doesn’t understand why his friend can’t come across the fence to play or why Bruno can’t go to the other side of the fence. There is something so sweet about Bruno’s innocence and refusal to judge those who are a little different from him. I also have a tough time believing, though, that the son of a Commandant who is overseeing one of the largest concentration camps in the world doesn’t know what a Jew is and whether he is a Jew or not. That aside, Bruno’s innocence came across as genuine.

“What exactly was the difference? [Bruno] wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore uniforms” (100).

This is a short book that can be read within a couple of hours, and while I do recommend it, it isn’t as powerful as some of the other books I’ve read about the Holocaust or World War II. Could this partly be because it was written for young adults? I don’t know–I’ve read some pretty powerful young adult books (The Book Thief is one I highly recommend). I guess the unbelievablity of the story continued to tug away at me. I was shocked by the ending of the book, and even though it’s not hard to guess this book would not have a happy ending, it left my heart hollow.

Have you read this book or seen the movie? How did you feel about it?

Join Cym Lowell’s Book Review Party Wednesday!


The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman

Posted 8 July, 2009 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 40 Comments

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The Complete MausTitle: The Complete Maus
Author: Art Spiegelman
Published: 1986/1991 Pages: 295
Genre: Graphic Novel/Memoir
Rating: 5/5

This is the type of book that I hate writing about—the one that I loved so much that I simply can’t do it justice or organize my thoughts in a coherent manor. So, here we go:

Go read it. The End.

Ok, I guess I’ll go into a little more detail. I’ll be honest, I was pretty resistant towards this book. I had some prejudices that were holding me back a little bit. What prejudices? Well, mostly the talking animals. I know, it’s weird, but talking animals are sometimes a turn-off for me. It almost seemed childish that the author would choose to portray the Holocaust using mice and cats and Jews and Nazis—part of me even though this was a children’s literature book. But I’m glad I finally read enough reviews to convince me to get this book. I waited patiently until my 40% coupon for Borders arrived so I could rush off and buy a shiny new hardcover edition—the complete edition.

The Complete Maus is a combination of biography and memoir—the story Art Spiegelman’s father’s survival of the Holocaust, particularly his imprisonment in Auschwitz, and Spiegelman’s own experiences with his father as he works on the book. I loved both parts of the book equally, but the dynamics between Arty and his father, Vladek, created such an intimate texture to the story. I can’t say I particularly cared for either Arty or Vladek as characters–Spiegelman often shows them with all their faults in plain view–but the creation of Maus gives the two common ground and helps each other understand one another better.

Spiegelman’s father’s story provides the meat of the book. It begins during Vladek’s youth and his increasing success in both his personal and business life. He marries into a wealthy family of Polish Jews and quickly rises in his various occupations. This all quickly halts, however, when the Nazis begin imposing laws and regulations aimed at denigrating the Jews. Vladek and his wife, Anja, are successful in keeping from imprisonment for a long time due to Vladek’s industrious nature and the strong ties they have to wealthy Jews, but eventually they are forced to enter Auschwitz along with hundreds of thousands other Jews.

Like any other book about the Holocaust, Maus is incredibly heartwrenching and oftentimes unbelievable. I was constantly angered and sicked by the crimes committed and the atrocities millions had to endure. What makes this book especially poignant is its illustrated form. I can’t imagine a more effective way for Spiegelman to share his father’s experiences. I’m constantly amazed at what authors can accomplish in the illustrated form–the emotions the drawings can portray, the multi-layered dimensions of the story, the action, the misery, the joy, the love. There is a lot to be said about words, and I am a lover of words, but the drawings in this book continually speak for themselves–conveying things that words simply cannot accomplish.

illustration from The Complete MausAs I mentioned above, I have a weird thing about talking animals, but I love how Spiegelman chose to portray the different races in the book–mice for Jews, cats for Germans, pigs for Poles, so and and so on. I don’t know for sure what Spiegelman’s intentions were with these depictions, but on the one hand I saw the stereotypical cat chasing mouse theme, but on the other–and more importantly, it showed the ridiculousness of distinguishing between different races. I don’t think I’m making sense with that thought, but it’s there in my head.

This review is already far longer than I wanted it to be and I still feel like I haven’t said anything at all. We’ve all read Holocaust stories before. We know the history and we know what happens. But this is different than anything I’ve ever encountered before and I can’t recommend it enough. I couldn’t be more glad that I put my prejudices aside and read this book. Although I’m haunted by what I read and saw in this book (what was I thinking children’s lit??), I am grateful that Spiegelman was persistent enough to get his poor stubborn father’s story to share with us all. It is not one that should be overlooked or forgotten. None of them are.

So what do you say? Are you going to read it? If you have read it, what did you think?


Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (and Giveaway!!)

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (and Giveaway!!)

Title: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young GirlAuthor: Anne FrankDate Finished: Oct 18, 2008 #60Pages: 258Published: 1947 This probably was not the best book to pick for the read-a-thon, but since reading Anne Frank Remembered several months ago I’ve been looking for a good time to revisit this one (it’s been about 15 years since I read it last). I loved getting to know Anne again, but her story is so heartbreaking. Just as […]

Posted 22 October, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 35 Comments

Anne Frank Remembered – Miep Gies

Anne Frank Remembered – Miep Gies

Title: Anne Frank RememberedAuthor: Miep GiesDate Finished: May 29, 2008Yearly Count: 28Pages: 252 It has been so long since I have read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl that I could only remember a few of the details. I don’t even actually remember reading it (I think I must have been in 7th grade), but many of us are familiar with Anne’s story of her life in hiding for two years. While this […]

Posted 30 May, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 29 Comments

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Title: The Book ThiefAuthor: Markus ZusakDate Finished: Jan 19,2008Yearly Count: 4Pages: 550Rating: 5/5 I’ve been putting off this post for a while because I’m not quite sure how to approach this book. So many have read it and reviewed it, but for whatever reason I haven’t been able to get ahold of my thoughts. But…times a tickin’ so its time to get on with it. The Book Thief is the story of a young girl, […]

Posted 19 January, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 15 Comments

Review: Night – Elie Wiesel

Review: Night – Elie Wiesel

*Image from papercuts.tscpl.org Title: NightAuthor: Elie WieselDate Read: January 2007Rating: 4.25/5 I’m not sure what happened between the years that I was in high school and when my sisters went, but I wasn’t assigned this book. So, like usual, I took my sisters’ handmedown for this one (pretty sure they probably haven’t read any of those books I “borrowed”). What a powerful little book. I read Night in a few hours (although maybe stretched over […]

Posted 12 June, 2007 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 2 Comments