War stories

I’ve been a bit lax on posting about the book I’ve been reading for my 50 books in a year, but I read two books back to back a couple of weeks ago that formed a post in my head from the beginning.

I started off by reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I know, you’re surprised I never read it before, right? It wasn’t required for school and the Second World War isn’t generally my thing. But it’s like, a classic, so you have to read it eventually, right?

Also, Chandra bought it because she’d never read it. Then she handed it to me in class and said she’d finished reading it quickly so that I could read it after her, like we’d talked about. So I started reading it.

The next book I read, immediately afterward, was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I bought it a while ago, on recommendation from Fae. I didn’t really realize, as I sat down on an EasyJet flight to Paris, that I was about to start reading the second book about the Second World War in as many weeks.

“They’re strange, those wars. Full of blood and violence - but also full of stories that are equally difficult to fathom.” - The Book Thief

I think these are the only books I’ve ever read about the Second World War. Truly, my love of history stops at about 500 CE and starts up again during the Cold War. Nothing had ever brought the World Wars to life for me, really. It was all a blur of battles and mud and air strikes and assasinations. There were no faces to the stories, no names to the tragedies.

I think that’s probably why a lot of people are forced to read Anne Frank in school.

I can’t say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Diary of a Young Girl, per se. It dragged on in lots of parts, and I wasn’t terribly interested in how much a 13 year old girl hates her mother. But it was undeniably real. It was the real voice of a real girl and the horrible things she had to go through. And even the parts that were annoying were real. It was her life. And sometimes it was horrible and terrifying and other times it was so shockingly normal.

I only picked out one quote from The Diary of a Young Girl.

I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”

It’s pretty powerful to think of a quote like that coming from a girl who spent more than a year in hiding above a warehouse, hoping for the end of a war.

The Book Thief, on the other hand, was entirely fictitious, but also very poignant. And much better written, no offense to Anne. I adored The Book Thief. It was a truly unique book. It’s told from the perspective of Death, watching over a girl called Liesel, who encounters him a number of times. It’s full of really interesting foreshadowing, intertextuality and interesting devices like pictures and short lists. The style is very interesting, and being narrated by Death means that it has a lot of really great one liners, my favourite.

“It’s the leftover humans. The survivors. They’re the ones I can’t stand to look at, although on many occasions, I still fail.”

“When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started not just to mean something, but everything.”

“It’s hard not to like a man who not only notices the colours, but speaks them.”

“Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened. Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew.”

“It was a year for the ages, like 79, like 1346, to name just a few. Forget the scythe, God damn it, I needed a broom or a mop. And I needed a holiday.”

“The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better. What good were the words?”

I’ve had enough war stories for a while. It was pretty intense, reading these two books next to each other.

4 Comments

  • By Shaun McAlister, April 13, 2010 @ 7:50 am

    War is a wonderful genre but only when it doesn’t concern the actual fighting which becomes monotonus (sp) to me. You may have had enough for now but I can not praise the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker and Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo highly enough. Both are set in WWI and concern the goings on in the mind of a soldier. Regeneration set in a English mental institution and Johnny told as the internal thoughts of a young soldier kept alive in a hospital room despite having no arms, legs, mouth, eyes or face. Pretty grim reading but very worth it.

  • By Faebala, April 14, 2010 @ 2:13 am

    I tend to like war movies better than I do books; movies like Schindler’s List and Jakob the Liar. But it’s also (especially WWII), such a popular subject… I hate to say it, but the stories all start to be the same.

    I’ve never read all of Diary of Anne Frank. Just parts of it.

  • By Dad, April 15, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

    Before you stop, please read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It is not about war, but about what happens after war when the victors start writing the history. It’s not a very big book, you can read it in a day, but it is very changing.

  • By Gabby, July 25, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

    Full of salient points. Don’t stop belivieng or writing!

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