Friday, 14 December 2012
Then the humans.
That's how I usually see things.
Or at least, how I try.
Markus Zusak perspective of Nazi Germany is a strange one - observed through the eyes of death. And it is his quirky, original way take on the world that made me fall in love with his novel, The Book Thief. Zusak takes one of Europe's (and the world's) darkest moments and injects it with humour and hope - but doesn't shrink from describing the horrors of that grim period of history.
The book is not perfect but it is original and clever. The characterisation (larger than life; cartoon-like) is a joy to read. The creativity of his language is inspirational, but when Zusak gets caught up with telling his story, he doesn't manage to sustain the level of creativity found in the first pages of the book.
The structure of the book, however, is innovative: The small fact files that break up the text, act as pointers, glossary and sub-titles all rolled into one, allowing the book to breathe.
The grim reaper as protagonist works well too, and the motif of colour throughout allows Zusak to write scenes of sumptious creativity.
Zusak's portrayal of Liesel and her relationship with her foster family and the street kids she befriends could verge on the sentimental, but the tough and humorous characters he creates lets him off the hook.
This book was my companion as I travelled through Germany, camping along the Baltic coast and on down through Swiss Saxony before reaching Bavaria. I started seeing Germany through Zusak's eyes: the absurdity, the generousity, the small-mindedness, the individuality, the humour, the weaknesses and the strengths of my fellow human beings encountered along the way:
There was the wild-eyed German at one campsite who threatened to call the police because we'd kicked a flaming gas canister into the centre of the field (out of the way of our tent, car and children), even though we had put the fire out!
There was the large-bellied cook in dungarees on a Ruegen campsite (who had built a metal cocoon, segments of tapered corrugated tin, called the 'Woodpecker Cave') who fed us on pineapple and shouted so loudly he might as well have been speaking through a megaphone.
There was the monstrous Hitler 'holiday camp,' 5 miles long (but never saw a single holidaymaker); a building of such misguided ambition, it stood like a decaying beached whale on the shoreline with its cracked concrete and broken windows.
There was the excited carpark attendant on the Island of Usedom whose eyes nearly popped out of his head when he 'saw' my young son driving - he had never seen a right-hand drive before. So thrilled to meet a Brit, he exclaimed he would have bought me a bunch of flowers if only he had known I was coming.
There was the rattling trabi on the autobahn trundling along at a stately 40 miles per hour; an older couple peering through the window. They'd waited years to get their precious car. The metal wasn't much thicker than a can of baked beans - but all their dreams were contained in that scrap of metal. They weren't about to give it up any day soon.
Sometimes as I travelled, the absurd, the funny, the tragic and the colour of Zusak's created world merged with my own real life journey through Germany. He added flavour to an unusual holiday, and I realised, his larger-than-life portrayal of war-time Germany was not so far removed from real life in the present day Germany.
Zusak just helped me see it ...
This post has been entered into the blogging competition at the works here:
I nominate 3 bloggers:
Tuesday, 16 October 2012
Saturday, 8 September 2012
Saturday, 1 September 2012
Delighted to have won the Just Back Telegraph competition with this piece.
Komarna is a small modern village, mainly catering for the tourist industry. It is a good centre for visiting some of Croatia's beautiful islands: Hvar, Mljet, and Korcula, for example, and the Peljesac Peninsula. Dubrovnik can also be visited on a day trip, as can Mostar in Bosnia. The apartment we stayed in was right by the sea. It was wonderful to sit on the balcany and watch the world go by - or watch the sun set. Check it out here:
The Brljevic family, who own the apartment where we were staying, were incredibly hospitable. Apart from the wonderful basement experience, Jasminka made me a delicious orange and nut cake for my birthday (and gave me a box of chocolate). On arrival the fridge was filled with food: milk, beer, orange juice, rolls and a platter of food (cured ham and cheese) as well as fruit.
This is a family who love good food. Vera, their daughter, and partner Frank live in Istria and write a great blog about Istria and food. The blog includes mouth-watering recipes. Check it out here:
Thursday, 23 August 2012
Monday, 30 July 2012
Saturday, 23 June 2012
Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Saturday, 18 February 2012
I've just come back from Northern Ireland. Recently, I've started using the trains again - and I'm discovering a new, vibrant Belfast.
Sunday, 12 February 2012
Anyway, the day involves lots (and lots) of food, games, music and performances.
This year, I decided to make a 'Desert Island Disc' for each family. (I stole the idea from a friend). Jamie, my son, and I then set about writing a quiz based on each family's choices. It was all great fun.
Whilst I was investigating the rules for Desert Island Discs, I noticed that the Radio 4 website was asking the public to send in their 'Desert Island Song' along with a story. Each local radio was going to do a regional programme, giving 'Joe Bloggs' a chance to hear a song that was close to his or her heart and tell an accompanying story. I sent a story I had already written about Van Morrison's Coney Island song-poem, and promptly forgot all about it.
A short time later, I had a phone call from a producer at the local radio. Would I come in and share my story? Would I not! I took the train to Derby and nervously told my story into the mike.
Some weeks later, our family sat round the radio (It had a real wartime feel to the occasion) and listened to my story on the radio. Strange to hear my own voice over the airwaves.
Here's the lyrics to the Van Morrison song I chose, and the story I sent into Radio Derby.
Stopping off at St. John's Point
Out all day bird watching
And the craic was good
Stopped off at Strangford Lough
Early in the morning
Drove through Shrigley taking pictures
And on to Killyleagh
Stopped off for Sunday papers at the
Lecale District, just before Coney Island
On and on, over the hill to Ardglass
In the jamjar, autumn sunshine, magnificent
And all shining through
Stop off at Ardglass for a couple of jars of
Mussels and some potted herrings in case
We get famished before dinner
On and on, over the hill and the craic is good
Heading towards Coney Island
I look at the side of your face as the sunlight comes
Streaming through the window in the autumn sunshine
And all the time going to Coney Island I'm thinking,
Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?