Here is a treat for anyone interested in Eastern Europe.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
... the Holocaust theme??!! I am not sure, but the fact is that I am concurrently reading three books that are either primarily concerned with the extermination of Jews or their characters question others of their memories of the Holocaust in order to find the truth.
The first book is Bernard Schlink's The Reader. Usually, I read the book prior to watching the movie made after it, but this time it was the opposite. The movie was fantastic. Now that I am reading the book, I can say that the book is even better. Enjoying the book after having seen the movie rarely happens. However, this is not the case with Schlink's narrative. His prose is sensitive, vibrant, erudite; it embraces the reader with its tentacles and does not let go even after you are done with the whole text. The questions that emerge from the read are much more prolific than those addressed in the movie version of the story. As much as the performance in the movie is impeccable and the plot flows well, the book poses the most important moral dilemmas that the younger generation during the Third Reich faced, and the movie slightly touches on these issues. The main question becomes where one can draw the line between duty and humane actions. Michael, the narrator of the story, who is a 15-year old boy, is exposed to the dilemmas of his generation in which the kids of those involved in the Holocaust ponder over the actions of their parents trying to decide if what they did was prompted out of fear for their lives or call for duty. Michael suffers mostly because it is not his parents that have committed the crime, but it is his lover and beloved who has done so. He has chosen to love a woman who has clearly trespassed the lines of humane actions in fulfilling her duties as a Nazi camp guard. Does his love for her make him an equal culprit?
Besides the moral questions that the text raises, the reader of The Reader is overwhelmed by the simplicity and tenderness of the words Schlink uses to describe love and passion. The act of reading which precedes love-making in Hanna and Michael's world ties indelibly to the newly discovered concept of loving for the young boy. Love of books and love between two people live in an indisputable connectedness throughout the novel. In fact, Michael and Hannah foster their love through the love of books even during her long years in prison. The love of the erudite activity overpowers the love of the physical touch. In this sense, it is not surprising, though many readers/viewers could have found it to be strange, when Michael finally visits Hannah in prison, their urge, desire, or habit to touch each other or even to hug has faded, but their spiritual connectedness has remained pristine throughout the years due to the act of reading and listening. Michael has read aloud dozens of books for Hannah, and she has listened to them. Their consumption of love has taken a completely different form. Through words only they have achieved a harmonious relationship. They have been lovers through all these years when they were apart, even more passionate lovers than when they actually were together and made love. This is the bitter truth that Michael and Hannah discover during Michael's visit in prison before Hannah is to be released. And her decision to commit suicide comes only naturally: she is not ready to change the relationship that they have had; she is not ready to mar the love constructed and consumed through books by the act of reading and listening. A poignant moment - that of the realization. It could smother a pregnant lady with her own tears.
The other book that I randomly selected for my summer reading pleasures unfortunately did not provide me with the sophistication of The Reader. Despite its international acclaim, The Book Thief did not touch the proper cords as it must have happened to many other readers. The style was easily digestible, in fact it could be considered innovative in many ways - Death tells the story of a little girl and his foster parents during the last years of Hitler's Germany. The most annoying part of it all was the slow pace of the narrative. Although it seems to be important to see how Liesel, the little girl, develops her love for books (close to the theme from The Reader), the story still crawls way to slowly before any real predicament comes along. The text is peppered with fresh humor, and for someone who has the patience to wait until a gratifying moment (somewhere towards page 500 perhaps), I am sure it has been a different experience. However, the image of the book created by its American classification as Young Adult Literature does not prepare grounds for such patience. I approached it as a quick (though 550-page) read, and was disappointed.
I have planned to read Everything is Illuminated for a long time now and am really glad that I finally got to it. It is one of the best reads that I have come across in the last year. The young author, Jonathan Safran Foer, reveals incredible story-telling skills. Elements of magic realism are masterfully weaved through a text that talks about an American searching for a woman in Ukraine who saved his grandfather by helping him escape the Nazis. The plot is brilliant, and the narrative style breaks the rules of the mundane English phrase, not only because of the "broken English" that the Ukrainian translator speaks, but simply because Foer's phrase bursts with images to reveal an unprecedented in recent literature imagination. I will have to write about Everything Is Illuminated in a separate post. It truly deserves its own spot.