Thursday, June 12, 2008

Books I’ve Enjoyed Recently, Part III

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Narrated by none other than death, the opening tone of this young adult novel is rather cryptic and strange. The narrative unfolds into a sobering tale of a foster girl’s passage to adolescence in the morally complex landscape of Nazi Germany. Though ultimately tragic, the story is not void of humor or creativity. The author employs fresh verb usage and surprising metaphors throughout.

The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry: This was my introduction to the author’s fictional works. It’s part of a cluster of novels and short stories that revolve around a rural Kentucky farming town. Jack is not a dog, as one might guess, but a man, a patriarch of sorts among farmers bound by an assortment of kinship and friendship, but primarily by their deep loyalty to the land. Like an old dog, Old Jack’s memory roams about through his own history on the final day of his life. Berry has an almost poetic knack for storytelling, if he does get a bit soap-boxy near the end when Jack is mentally ranting against the de-agriculturalization of America, TV, materialism-driven upward mobility, etc.

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama: Obama describes his varied childhood experiences from a hardscrabble boy’s life with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia to the elite Punahou School in Hawaii where he was one of a small handful of black students. He chronicles his turbulent years of identity confusion as a college student and young community organizer in Chicago. The myth, mystery, and pain surrounding his absent Kenyan father form the story’s thread, culminating in a visit to relatives in Kenya where Obama gains a deeper understanding of his late father’s complexity, along with his own African history.

A recent news story on the anniversary of the landmark case legalizing interracial marriage points to the irony of Obama’s rise to influence in this country.

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