Category Archives: Markus Zusak

I am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak

I read The Book Thief about a year ago and really enjoyed it, so when Simon picked another Markus Zusak book – I am the Messenger – for Riverside Readers, I was delighted.

I am the Messenger couldn’t be more different in context than The Book Thief although stylistically it is not too far removed in the way that it uses dark humour and vivid characters to convey themes of humanity and personal development. The story begins when protagonist Ed Kennedy becomes an accidental hero at the scene of a bank robbery. Afterwards he begins receiving cryptic messages delivered on playing cards. He undertakes a series of missions which bring him into contact with a range of different characters. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes beautiful – his experiences turn his life up-side down.

Forthright and down-to-earth, Ed is a likeable character although definitely an unlikely hero. A 19 year old Aussie cab driver, Ed’s life doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere special and he is acutely aware of his failings (“bad at sex”) and generally believing himself to be a hopeless case. He is constantly harangued by his rather hard-nosed mother and lives in the shadow of his dead father’s alcoholism. I found that the first person narrative in the story was really well executed and I really enjoyed Ed’s affable, self aware voice as well as his detailed descriptions of the character flaws and strengths of his close friends.

I am the Messenger has been categorised as a crossover book and I can see it sits across young adult / adult fiction genres. There is a strong message of personal growth and it is also structured and written in a clear way which makes it very readable. I did think that it was clever (if a little contrived) that the chapters corresponded to the suits and numbers of cards in a deck. These manageable chapters along with the conversational tone made for a pacy read. I do think that it managed to avoid being over emotional, however at times the underlying messages of the book were unsubtle and the developing love story hard to miss. Content-wise for the young adult category, I would say that it is probably suited at mid-teen age range. Constantly navel gazing when it comes to his problems in the love department Ed’s thoughts are often sex-oriented, although they tend to be insightful and funny rather than gratuitous. I definitely had the sense that I was stuck inside the head of a young man!

The best thing about the book was definitely some of the touching scenes and encounters with the people that Ed delivers messages to. There were also some pretty dark moments particularly at the beginning of the book which seemed designed to make the reader thing about what they might personally do in the situation. I wouldn’t say that this book changed my life but it was a really enjoyable and original read, and for me confirms that Zusak is a master of tugging at the heart strings without a saccharine-sweet approach.

My rating:

7 out of 10

What young adult or crossover fiction have you read an enjoyed?

The Book Thief & The Joy of Being Read To!

I managed to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in time for book group, although I have to admit it was pretty close, with me sat on the tube reading with a tear in my eye on the way to the restaurant!

I don’t think it’s really giving much away to say that this is a moving novel. Narrated by Death, the story, set during WWII follows a little girl called Liesel, who is taken under the wing of foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann in a German village following the death of her little brother. It is implied that her Mother, a communist has been taken to a concentration camp. The story follows Liesel from her induction into book-thievery, her new life in the village and her relationship with her indomitable friend Rudy, through to the difficult experience of hiding a Jewish refugee in their basement.
I felt that the device of using Death as narrator was an original idea, and a good way to develop a birds-eye view on the situation, however I found the way in which he was given such a ‘human’ perspective a little implausible. I also didn’t feel that the characters were particularly complex, with traditional Nazi ‘baddies’ and the endearing grumpy but ultimately ‘good’ Rosa Hubermann. I almost had the sense that the book was written with a film in mind (particularly the relationship between Rudy and Liesel), as it was quite cinematic in content. The upside of this was that the the story itself was a joy to read – engaging, beautifully written and with charming characters. The highlight of this novel for me was the personalities described by Zusak and the warmth that he was able to develop between different characters. Liesel herself was beautifully described and her friendship with Rudy was completely enchanting. Although I felt it wasn’t quite gritty enough (WWII ‘lite’?), I enjoyed reading from an alternative perspective on this period of history. Overall this was a wonderful read, and reminded me of stories that my own grandmother used to tell me about her experiences during the war.
Another reason why I enjoyed The Book Thief was because it was a fantastic distraction from the horrible flu that I had that week! And even better, in my sorry state, I had the pleasure of having a few chapters read to me in bed by my indulgent boyfriend which was really quite wonderful. It’s quite special to have something read out loud to you for two reasons. Firstly, you experience the story in a different way than you would reading it in your head – I found that the way that my boyfriend read it brought out the humour in the novel because the form of the sentences and style comes through more clearly. Secondly, being read to is great because it makes you feel cared for and is a sweetly intimate experience reminiscent of more innocent days. I have also enjoyed having first chapters of favourite novels read to me by friends (Perfume, by Patrick Suskind) which is a great way to be introduced to novels that like minded people are passionate about. Whether it’s a loving partner, a good friend or a reader at a book group, I thoroughly recommend seeking out an opportunity to hear stories being read out loud.