Sunday, July 13, 2008

Two worthwhile reads

Total chance that two very readable books turned up at the very same time. I wish I could remember who recommended Alas, Babylon, if it was you, Thanks! I had passed over The Book Thief until I read the review I have posted below.

Plot Summary: Alas Babylon by Pat Frank
"In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida," an early December Friday dawns warm and peaceful. There are rumblings of potential crisis from the outside world--"The Russians had sent up another Sputnik, No. 23, and something sinister was going on in the Middle East"--but the citizens of Fort Repose bask in their small-town peacefulness. Then Randy Bragg, the younger son of a prominent local family--lawyer, Korean War vet, and unsuccessful candidate for the state legislature--receives a Western Union cable from his older brother, Mark, a colonel in the Strategic Air Command. Mark's cable includes a code phrase used by the brothers since childhood to indicate imminent disaster: "Alas, Babylon." Randy correctly concludes that nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union is in fact imminent. On Saturday morning, The Day, Randy wakes to "a long, deep, powerful rumble" and a second sunrise glow to the south. So begins the struggle of Fort Repose to survive the unimaginable. Against all the odds, the citizens of this small town are spared the immediate and worst effects of nuclear attack. But they escape neither the secondary consequences nor their own human limitations. As staples and services disappear--first the phone lines, then money, then gas, then electricity, then food and medications, then running water--they cope with a world in which, in a single day, a thousand years of civilization have been stripped away. In his large home just outside town, Bragg gathers together family members and friends, black and white, in a mutually supportive battle against disaster. Eventually Randy, as a lieutenant in the Army Reserve, will have to assume command of the entire town. In the meantime, through the year that follows The Day, all the human strengths and frailties come into play, with the fates of ordinary people hanging in the balance. Pat Frank's classic post-apocalyptic novel remains "an extraordinarily real picture of human beings numbed by catastrophe, but still driven by the unconquerable determination of living creations to keep on being alive." --The New Yorker

The only thing that betray this books age, 1959.. 50 years people!, the military hardware and the political situation of the times. You will find some sentiments a little old fashioned including this bit that made me smile. Mark is speaking about his children: " He loved her. He loved them both. They had been very satisfactory children."


Australian writer Markus Zusak never expected his novel, The Book Thief, to be such a huge international hit. In an interview, he said that he imagined people describing it to their friends saying something like: "Well, it's set in Nazi Germany, it's narrated by Death, nearly everyone dies -- oh, and it's 550 pages long, you'll love it..." Well, despite -- or perhaps, because -- of all those elements, readers do love the book and The Book Thief has become a phenomenal, runaway success.
Our heroine is a 9 year old girl called Leisel Meminger. Leisel is sent to a foster family after her brother dies and her mother has, ominously, been "sent away". Her life is changed forever when, by her brother's grave, she picks up a book hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and taking it is her first act of book theft. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be taken. As Markus says, the narrator of the book is Death which, as soon as you think about it, seems oddly fitting for a book about Nazi Germany. There is a quietly radical element to the book, too, which shows how difficult life was for ordinary Germans during this period. A moving, intelligent page-turner.

My library has this book in the teen section but it should not be overlooked by the adult audience. You will find your eyes drawn back as your brain digests certain sentences. The author has used words beautifully.


Now it's time to finish my dusting. My husband doesn't understand but you ladies might...I'm not leaving a dirty house.

1 comment:

Jayne said...

Thanks for those reviews, Elizabeth.
Feral Beast has just started reading The Diary of Anne Frank, so The Book Thief would be a good one to follow on with!