The concept is interesting, and I enjoyed the little factual tidbits scattered around, but I found the author's discussion of his efforts--the strain...moreThe concept is interesting, and I enjoyed the little factual tidbits scattered around, but I found the author's discussion of his efforts--the strain on his marriage, his loss of social skills, etc.--to be, well, boring. I love trivia, and would have been glad to browse a book dominated by the fun facts found throughout the encyclopedia. But the book is less about the facts that about the process, and that part of the book became whiny and dull very quickly. (less)
I got through about 50 pages before putting this one down. I'm sure Fuentes has some fascinating lights to shine on the area of Mexican politics (whic...moreI got through about 50 pages before putting this one down. I'm sure Fuentes has some fascinating lights to shine on the area of Mexican politics (which is certainly ripe for literary analysis), but I found the medium in this instance to frustrate more than entice. The book takes as its setting a Mexico in 2020 that has lost all electronic means of communication because its Miami-based satellite has encountered a mechanical failure (brought on by Mexico's political demands on the US). On that premise, Fuentes writes the book as a series of letters between political operatives and public figures.
My problem is primarily this: the letters sound nothing like actual letters. They are unduly descriptive in odd spots because Fuentes is trying to get out descriptions of people and circumstances that the actual letters, were they real, would never contain. Even beyond that, I found the writing to be overly loquacious and awkwardly formal. The discomfort from reading the series of poorly-designed correspondence left me unable to get into the subject matter of the book at all. Once I hit 50 pages, I just couldn't motivate myself to read on.(less)
I don't see what the fuss is about on this one. To my eye, the author lacks any real sense of narrative and character development. The narrator hersel...moreI don't see what the fuss is about on this one. To my eye, the author lacks any real sense of narrative and character development. The narrator herself doesn't even seem to register as a player in her own life. There's nothing in the first 30 or so pages to make the reader wonder or care about the story-teller or what happens in her life. After all, it's hard to take interest when she herself hardly seems to take interest. Myself, I gave up on her; too many good books in the world still to read.(less)
I am apparently one of the few people who just do not see what all of the hype is about on this one. I was really excited to read this after all of th...moreI am apparently one of the few people who just do not see what all of the hype is about on this one. I was really excited to read this after all of the glowing reviews it got, but I was left extremely disappointed. I found the writing stilted and stuttering (hard to stutter in writing, but this book pulls it off), overly sentimental, and heavy-handed on the symbolism.
I also found the author's approach to the story to be just plain gimmicky. The first and foremost gimmick (also see heavyy-handed symbolism) is that the story is narrated by Death. Now, this might work in some books, but not this one. The choice of narrator adds absolutely nothing to the story; it is only a distraction to the reader, and it also encouraged the author to add trite observations about Death's perspective (for example, he doesn't carry a scythe, but likes the human image) that add nothing to the story. If Death here had been given developed personality or a unique perspective, then maybe (and even then it's a stretch) the choice of narrator would have worked. As it is, the story is told almost entirely as though by an omniscient narrator (is Death omniscient?) and we get absolutely nothing from the choice of Death to fill the role. It's a gimmick, and it falls flat.
The other gimmick I found most distracting (these are not the only two, but they are the most egregious) is the repeated use of little newsflash-type, bold and centered notes that appear periodically through the story to highlight some stupid point and add (in the author's mind) dramatic effect. These newsflashes, as I think of them, were irritating and served only to break up the natural narrative flow without adding anything significant. This is another example of the author hitting the reader over the head with his points, rather than trusting his own writing to get the message across. This is another ill-conceived and heavy-handed gimmick intended to correct for a poor narrative.
I think it is telling that while this book gets listed as teen fiction, Zusak actually wrote it for adults. For some reason, it got identified as being for teens when it got marketed in the U.S. (it was written in Australia). It seems to me that the explanation for this change is that the novel feels like it was written by a very immature author, and so the prose does not attain the quality one should expect of adult fiction.
I think good Holocaust stories need to be told, but the Book Thief fails at that endeavor. The story is trite; the narrative is sentimental and uninspired. I recommend that you look elsewhere for something better. If you want something for younger readers, try Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. If you're a bit older, also read Night by Elie Weisel or the Diary of Anne Frank. I might even add in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, to counteract the heavy-handed book-burning theme of the Book Thief. There's plenty more out there that better deserve your time and attention than does this book.(less)
The real indecision here comes in how long you waver before finally giving up on this book. The story meanders aimlessly in a pseudo-philosophical fog...moreThe real indecision here comes in how long you waver before finally giving up on this book. The story meanders aimlessly in a pseudo-philosophical fog that is neither amusing (as advertised on the cover) or in any other way interesting. The premise--a chronically indecisive loser in his late 20's (allegedly representing a whole generation to which I happen to belong--needless to say, I don't agree with the categorization) is offered a miracle drug to relieve his indecision--could be interesting. It is at the very least a meaningful commentary on our society's growing reliance on drugs. But the narrator is dull and unsympathetic, and the author himself seems lost in trying to tell the guy's story. Really, all this book has going for it are a few interesting themes: plot, character, narrative voice, and a sense of story are all (sadly) lacking.(less)
I feel like this is a book I should have liked, dealing as it does with the immigrant experience in America (one of my favorite topics). But as hard a...moreI feel like this is a book I should have liked, dealing as it does with the immigrant experience in America (one of my favorite topics). But as hard as I tried, I simply could not get interested in this novel. I made it about halfway through before finally calling it quits.
The story (as if you couldn't get the summary from anywhere else) is in short about an aspiring writer (our narrator) in the present age who gets a grant to research and write the story of Lazarus Averbuch, an immigrant who was shot and killed while trying to give a letter to a police officer in Chicago in 1908. The author travels back to Europe with an old friend, Rema, as he explores the trip an immigrant would have taken, as long as his own roots. Blah blah blah.
As it turns out, what this is really is the lame excuse for a novel that simply describes what Hemon himself went through--getting a grant to write the story, etc. And instead of getting what might be an interesting story about this immigrant in 1908, we are left to read mostly about Brik (the narrator) and his own experiences, which turn out to be very dull. In fact, Brik himself points out a number of times that he's not a good storyteller, that his friend Rema is the better storyteller--well, maybe he should have left Rema to tell this story.
The characters in the novel are underdeveloped and, more importantly, just not that interesting. And the writing itself is annoying. Hemon's language is awkward, and he often chooses words that distract rather than enlighten. At one point that stands out in my memory, he describes a man as "edentate." What's wrong with "toothless"? Some writers make great use of a broad vocabulary (see, e.g., Tom Robbins), but Hemon sounds as if he were sitting down with his thesaurus, and the effect is language that gets in the way of his storytelling.
And as a total aside, what the heck does Hemon have against using quotation marks in his dialogue? It's just another pretense among many that get in the way of enjoying this book.(less)
I appreciate what Barth does in this novel, essentially riffing on the 18th century historical novel (I believe the Sot-Weed Factor was published arou...moreI appreciate what Barth does in this novel, essentially riffing on the 18th century historical novel (I believe the Sot-Weed Factor was published around 1960). He does it with a great deal of humor and, at least it seems to me, authenticity. Alas, I have tried twice and I just can't read more than about 50 pages of the thing.
My problem is mainly this: I don't like reading books written in the 18th century. I don't like the style of writing or the way people spoke, especially when they're trying to accurately portray the lives of people in the 17th century (as this book does). Doubtless there are witticisms and adventures galore throughout this book, but I cannot seem to find the patience to dig through the obscure references and the flowery, old-style language to get through to them. The occasional, slight amusement I got was not adequate payoff for the effort going in.
So, as I said, I can appreciate Barth's idea and his enterprise in crafting this novel. Indeed, I am sure that it is a beautifully-formed mimicry of the 18th century novel about 17th century misadventures. For all of its assets, though, and all of its artistic merit, I simply cannot read this book.(less)