Monday, August 19, 2013

Orphans

Last week, I read two novels, The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston and The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak. The protagonists in both books are orphans whose parents have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. I didn't choose the orphan theme but both books came to me with enthusiastic recommendations. I exchange books with others and am using Kobo Desktop to limit the size of my book piles.

Devlin Stead, the protagonist in Navigator lives in Newfoundland at the end of the 19th century. He is an outsider in his community, the child of abandonment and suicide. Devlin withstands the taunts of his classmates and the hushed tones of the townspeople by reading secret letters from an explorer who claims to be Devlin's biological father. As a young man, Devlin travels to New York to live with Dr. Cook, his correspondent and to join in the exploration of both the North Pole and of his own life. Much of the North Pole exploration theme is based on the real-life competition between Robert Peary and Frederick Cook to reach the North Pole. The Navigator of New York is full of twists and turns as Devlin discovers that much of life is not as it seems.

The Book Thief is the story of another orphan, Liesl Meminger, who is sent to live with Hans and Rosa on Himmel Street outside of Munich. The narrator of this novel is Death and ironically "himmel" means heaven. In 1938 Munich, Liesl, whose biological parents have been lost to the Nazi regime, is a terrified child finding a little comfort when Hans, her foster father, teaches her to read. Books are scarce in this poor household and Liesl steals her first book from a Nazi book burning. The Book Thief, which is actually a Young Adult book, provides a poignant view of life in wartime Germany. There is a movie of The Book Thief that will be released in the fall.

For me, reading is an important part of every day.  Books have both the power to transport me to a different place and time, and to provide me with opportunities for personal connection and introspection.

How do you choose your books? Do you have recommendations? Why do you read?

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