Books # 5, 6, 7.
In my 52 book challenge, I have actually read more books than this blog would suggest.
But writing about them? Oh how behind I am. And oh, how tedious to go back and try to catch up. So I’ll keep it brief, and do a few at a time.
Book #5- The MIdnight Zoo, by Sonya Hartnett.
Her muzzle wrinkled, and Andrej saw a glimpse of teeth and pale tongue. ‘They smell the same, ’ the lioness murmured. ‘My cubs smelt as she does. Like pollen.’ She breathed deeply again, and Andrej saw the missing cubs returning to her on the wings of the baby’s perfume. ‘All young ones must come from the same place,’ she said: then sat down on her haunches, seemingly satisfied.
Under cover of darkness, two brothers cross a war-ravaged countryside carrying a secret bundle. One night they stumble across a deserted town reduced to smouldering ruins. But at the end of a blackened street they find a small green miracle: a zoo filled with animals in need of hope.
A moving and ageless fable about war, and freedom.
Let me preface this by saying that Sonya Hartnett is one of my favourite authors. The first book I read of hers was Thursday’s Child, a poignant, melancholy study of a family faced with an indecipherable riddle of a child. The second was Sleeping Dogs, which drew me into its troubled, trapped characters, then held me captive, reading helplessly as their destiny arrived like a freight train; unstoppable, unmoveable. I was haunted by Hartnett’s plot line for weeks, years.
So I was very excited about this new one. When I checked out what others had thought, he readers online raved and raved.
I certainly enjoyed this fable about two young brothers escaping a war and trying to protect their baby sister. And yes, the talking animals they found in the zoo were beautifully created characters who shed light on the nature of humanity and what it means to love, to survive, and to be free, but…
…well, I found myself missing the engulfing, delicious darkness I have come to expect from Ms. Hartnett.
Book #6- Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani.
It is 1950 in glittering, vibrant New York City. Lucia Sartori is the beautiful twenty-five-year-old daughter of a prosperous Italian grocer in Greenwich Village. The postwar boom is ripe with opportunities for talented girls with ambition, and Lucia becomes an apprentice to an up-and-coming designer at chic B. Altman’s department store on Fifth Avenue. Engaged to her childhood sweetheart, the steadfast Dante DeMartino, Lucia is torn when she meets a handsome stranger who promises a life of uptown luxury that career girls like her only read about in the society pages. Forced to choose between duty to her family and her own dreams, Lucia finds herself in the midst of a sizzling scandal in which secrets are revealed, her beloved career is jeopardized, and the Sartoris’ honor is tested.
This book may as well have been written with me in mind. Firstly, the cover. Could I ever have resisted? This little powderpuff of a book was all 1950s, fashion, Italy, sewing… all the things I love, spun into fairyfloss just perfect for consuming whilst having a bubblebath and a glass of red. Which is exactly what I did.
Little substance, lots of fun.
Book #7- The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.
It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery… .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
I actually read this very close to the start of the year, and I have put off writing about it because anything I say will fall so, so far from its true value.
I bought this book several years ago. I bought it because everyone I met seemed to love it. I left it unread on my shelf because I made the silly, silly mistake of assuming it to be historical fiction, a genre I find it ever so difficult to get into.
Stupid, stupid me.
But the wonderful thing about books is that they are patient creatures. They will wait until you are ready to hear the story they hold.
I’m not going to tell you all about it. What I will say is that in the ocean of novels I have read in my years, this one floats above as one of the finest pieces of writing I have encountered. It is beautiful, it is heartbreaking, it is staggeringly original. Markus Zusak is blessed with the kind of creativity that leaves me feeling both inspired and defeated.
Buy it. Don’t bother borrowing it from the library or a friend.
You need to own this book.