Sunday, December 01, 2013

Why We Need Books, Book Thief on the Screen, and Alice Hoffman's Dovekeepers

Why We Still Need Books by Maria Popova, from Brain Pickings
"Some people might tell you that books are no longer necessary now that we have the internet. Don’t believe them. Books help us know other people, know how the world works, and, in the process, know ourselves more deeply in a way that has nothing to with what you read them on and everything to do with the curiosity, integrity and creative restlessness you bring to them.
Books build bridges to the lives of others, both the characters in them and your countless fellow readers across other lands and other eras, and in doing so elevate you and anchor you more solidly into your own life. They give you a telescope into the minds of others, through which you begin to see with ever greater clarity the starscape of your own mind.
And though the body and form of the book will continue to evolve, its heart and soul never will. Though the telescope might change, the cosmic truths it invites you to peer into remain eternal like the Universe.
In many ways, books are the original internet — each fact, each story, each new bit of information can be a hyperlink to another book, another idea, another gateway into the endlessly whimsical rabbit hole of the written word. Just like the web pages you visit most regularly, your physical bookmarks take you back to those book pages you want to return to again and again, to reabsorb and relive, finding new meaning on each visit — because the landscape of your life is different, new, “reloaded” by the very act of living."
We read The Book Thief in my KCLS Book Group in Maple Valley, and everyone loved it, which is pretty rare for my group. Now a movie has been made from this popular novel, and Shelf Awareness' Jennifer Brown breaks it down for those who loved the book, giving a clear perspective on the film so readers can decide if they want to go and see it or wait until it comes out on DVD.

Bringing The Book Thief to the Big Screen
 by Jennifer Brown

The Book Thief is a story of children swept up in war. Death, who
narrates, takes an interest in the vibrantly alive Liesel. In the novel,
we see her through Death's eyes. In the film, the voice of Death opens
and closes the story, and breaks into the film perhaps half a dozen
times. But we see the atrocities of World War II
firsthand--Kristallnacht, the carting off of neighbors, Jewish prisoners
marched through the streets. Readers can put down the book, take a
break. But moviegoers cannot escape the images of cruelty.

In the book, Death enables our relationship with Leisel. In the movie,
Death must move out of the way. Director Brian Percival reminds
viewers--through aerial shots--that we are seeing events through a wider
lens; we see what Death sees. Yet there is beauty in the film, too. The
laughter of children playing, the pleasures of a snowball fight. The
secret kindnesses bestowed onto Liesel by Hans (played with such nuance
by Geoffrey Rush), the slow thaw of icy Rosa (portrayed brilliantly by
Emily Watson).

Earlier this month, Markus Zusak and Brian Percival spoke with Thelma
Adams of Yahoo Movies at New York City's School of Visual Arts Theater
in Chelsea. Zusak recalled that he and his wife went on one of their
twice-yearly outings to the movies (they have a two-year-old and a
seven-year-old) to see Monsieur Lazhar, with  Sophie Nélisse as
Alice L'Écuyer. "She'd make a great Leisel," Zusak told his wife.
"You should tell them," his wife replied. Brian Percival said that he
and his team saw 1,000 girls, between self-tapes and casting directors.
"Leisel had to be both feisty and vulnerable," he said. They flew
Nélisse and three other girls for a test in Berlin.
Nélisse is 13 years old, yet her emotional range, conveyed just
by the curling of her lip or a twinkle in her eye, is mesmerizing.

The Book Thief author Markus Zusak (center) with director Brian Percival
(r.) on the Berlin movie set.

Zusak is pleased with the film. If he misses one moment, it's the scene
in the book when Liesel sees Max wearing a Star of David and being
marched through the streets by the Nazis and she recites to him "The
Standover Man"--the story Max wrote and left for her in the painted-over
pages of Mein Kampf. But Zusak feels he also gained a scene that he had
not written in the book: when Max tells Leisel that everything that
lives knows "the secret word for life."

Zusak feels as though he was "a different version" of himself when he
wrote The Book Thief. "There are things I'd change, but that could take
away the spirit of the book," Zusak said. He's had 10 years of being
with the book, writing it, publishing it, bringing it to film. "I
thought this would be my least successful book,"

Zusak said. "This book's given me everything. I wrote four books before,
but I'm the writer of The Book Thief." He's been writing for the past
six to seven years, but hasn't finished another book. "I didn't want to
be a dad who goes away," he said. "But I need to block the world out; I
have to become the author of something else now."

Zusak's parents couldn't speak English when they moved to Australia. His
mother cleans houses; his father is a housepainter. And they told their
four children stories.

"To have one great storyteller in your life, you're lucky," said Zusak.
"But to have two is amazing. They taught me how to write, how to tell a
story, because of their love of stories. I had a huge appetite for those
stories, just as Leisel does." Zusak believes his mother and father
would not have told their children those stories if they still lived in

"There's one story that didn't make it into the book," Zusak said.
"After the war, Mom's town was occupied by Americans, Dad's by the
Russians. My father and his friends were stealing things from the
Russian camp, then they'd run. One day, a Russian truck stopped, and a
man got out. He stopped, looked at my father, walked up to him, touched
his face and said, 'Kind'--child. It suggests what he'd seen and left
behind. He got back in his truck and drove off." Zusak paused. "A book
is built on what didn't make it in. That's also what holds it up."

This reader missed Death's voice in the film. But Percival explained
that he had to show, not tell. "You can't keep inserting Death's voice.
That would interfere with our relationship with Leisel," he said. He's
right. He added, "You have to see it from Death's point of view, rather
than hear it."

Maybe a film is also built on what doesn't make it in. Because the movie
ends the way all who loved the book need it to end, and the sparing use
of Death's voice makes its appearance at the conclusion that much
stronger.  --Jennifer M. Brown

I am finished Alice Hoffman's "The Dovekeepers" and I must say that I am surprised at my fascination with the early Christian era and the plight of the Jewish people during Masada. Books about battles and war usually leave me cold, as do books about religion, fantatics, zealots and other forms of craziness. Fortunately, these subjects turn to gold in the deft hands of Hoffman, who tells us the story of four women and their trials of the heart as an outline to the wars that take place, and the women's ability to survive famine, war, rape and death makes for page-turning reading. In other words, I was already past page 325 before I looked at the clock and realized that hours had passed.
Hoffman has two other books, Green Angel and Green Witch that I've read recently that were equally mesmerizing,  though those slim volumes were YA books about a dystopian world where a young woman finds her powers of growth and healing are her ticket to adult society. The prose in those books are glorious and poetic, and while Dovekeepers prose is beautiful, it has to be a bit more straightforward because of the historical subject matter.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend all three books, and I've renewed my love of Hoffman's work because of them. An A all around, and well deserved at that, for these modern classics.

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