Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Vintage Crime (Random House)

Originally written in Swedish by author Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a gripping novel of mystery, tragedy, politics, journalism, family matters, and of course, love. This book first caught my attention when I was working at Barnes and Noble over a year ago. I'll admit that it was the neon yellow green cover that caught my eye (the other cover not pictured here). Along with the title and the author's name sprawled across, the book looked quite foreign- which made me even more interested. (I believe mystery and suspense is the most fun genre to read.) Regardless of the cover, it was deemed a "wildly suspenseful....utterly engrossing thriller" and other reviews from my fellow readers had relayed it as a good read.

What I was most excited about was the fact that it was authored by a non-English speaker and it's setting was in Sweden. I love how this novel spans time and place. And if I can't travel, I will at least read about other places. The names are different, the landscapes and weather create a unique setting, and the speech is native to the land, not just English.

Larsson is a terrific writer. I applaud his ability to pace the story while writing at a vivid yet coherent level. His descriptions are clear but not overly drawn. The reader can picture the characters not only as he decribes them but also through their words and reactions. I felt like I could pick out any of his characters on the street if I just overheard their conversation.

As far as content goes (no way I'm going to ruin this for you), I was impressed at the stories he wove into the novel. He kept his main characters central to the story, but he did not leave any side story untouched. It is a quick-paced mystery with many names and places. The reader must pay attention in order to follow the protagnist, Mikal Blomkvist, as he searches for the truth behind the Vanger family. Other than the overly graphic descriptions in a few places, the novel was very exciting and well crafted. Larsson has produced a rich and suspenseful tale, and I cannot wait to read his next one, The Girl Who Played With Fire.

(It's a great, curl-up-on-the-couch, cold-weather read! Enjoy!)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Never shall I forget that night.

The story in Night is narrated by a young boy named Eliezer who tells his difficult journey from his home in Hungary to Auschwitz. It is not a memoir, though it is told from the author's own experience; it represents the lives of Jewish families who were forced from their homes into Nazi concentration camps. From the beginning it is not expected to have a happy conclusion, but the book reveals a close look into the lives of the Jewish prisoners during the war.

Elie Wiesel, the author of Night, was a Hungarian Jew in 1944 when Germany invaded, and the Jewish community of Hungary was deported and dispersed. Wiesel's father, mother and younger sister all died in the Holocaust. Wiesel vowed silence for 10 years after the Holocaust, but he eventually wrote the first manuscript for Night. He wrote it in Yiddish and later condensed and translated it into French. Further translation into English produced the work published today as Night.

Wiesel's story is brief, but he distinctly describes his surroundings for the reader. Although it is not a factual account of Wiesel's own experience, his story is personal. Reading the book felt like I had stumbled on a man's diary of the event. One memory that the narrator recounts are the words other people said and his own reaction to it,
“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked. ..
For more than half an hour [the child in the noose] stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

“Where is God now?”
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
“Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows. . . .”
The narrator is a young boy watching senseless death around him. Before the invasion of Hungary, Eliezer was a diligent student. He is searching for answers and explanations. He is learning about humanity and life from the things around him. The author did not have a childhood that was innocent of death and hatred. He did not have a chance to see God without the death around him. The boy in his story is forced to survive in this place and make sense of the things he learned about God while surrounded by the terror of the concentration camp.

Although this book was short, it was not an easy read. It was painful to read the descriptions of the people in the camps that Eliezer confronted. It was difficult to grasp that this actually happened. I wanted to convince myself that humanity is not capable of such a thing. But, this is why I read. This book was able to take me out of my comfortable home and away from my easy life. It abruptly reminded me that history happened and lives were destroyed. Wiesel's first transcript was apparently more angry and vengeful toward the Nazis. How could it not be? How could bitterness and hatred not be an outcome of such an event? It would only make sense that a survivor would question their faith in God. Personally I do not have the ability to relate to this because I have not experienced an event so severe and painful as the Holocaust.
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
The tone in this passage bitter. He denounces God ("murdered my God"), but then compares his memory lasting as long as God, thus acknowledging the presence of God. It is a vivid, harsh description that tells how the Holocaust left a deep imprint on his heart. Today, I wonder how Elie Wiesel perceives the events of the Holocaust and how he believes in God. His book is a treasure that gives a valuable and personal look into the gruesome reality of the the Holocaust. It is something that should never be forgotten.