Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Liesel Meminger is fostered by a family in a small town on the edge of Munich. Her life is peppered with vivid memories of her real family before the war, her struggle to survive Allied bombing raids, and the constant threat of the scrutiny of the Nazi party.

Her mama - Rosa Hubermann - hides her heart beneath a mountain of insults and curses. Her papa - Hans - is a quiet man, who watches and waits, keeping Liesel close and calm. Rudy Steiner, her friend and neighbour, thinks he is the athlete Jessie Owens. So fast, he can outrun even death.

But there are secrets. Liesel has several secrets. From Max in the cellar to her collection of stolen books.

And what about death? Death is our narrator. He sees the horrors of war first hand. He gathers up the souls of Dachau, the Russian front and each bombing raid. Each crop of souls he harvests leaves an impression: a range of colours, but occasionally, every now and again, a human heart touches him. Is The Book Thief one such soul?

Profound, beautiful, moving. Zusak's masterpiece is at once charming, gripping and utterly devastating.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Want to know what the evil of modern times looks like?

Sebastian Faulks gives you a damn good idea. But don't let me mislead you. Let me try to explain why.

A Week in December recounts the story of seven people in seven days. A tube drive; a young radicalised Muslim man; a super rich hedge fund manager; a Polish footballer; a book reviewer; a rich, marijuana smoking teenager; and an underperforming lawyer.

Their intertwined stories unfold over the week. How does a footballer meet a stoner teenager? Why would a financier dine alongside a literary book reviewer? What happens when your beliefs and your life are on the line? And how far do you think one banker is prepared to go in search of profit?

As the strands of the story unwind, then intertwine, the sense of impending doom increases. But at the end, the biggest villain of all is not who you think.

A Week in December is a telling indictment of our times and a parable of what may be. This gripping story will get under your skin.