Book Review: I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

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The way I acquired this book was quite amusing, I must say. I ordered it at Foyles and it arrived a few days later. When I came to collect it, I had the following conversation with the sales person:

 

Me: “Hi, I ordered a book from you last week?”

Him: “Okay?”

Me: “I am the Messenger?”

Him: “Cool, what’s the title?”

Me: “I am the Messenger”

Him: “Yes, but what’s the title of the book that you ordered?”

Me: “That is the title?”

Him: “Oh sorry! I thought you were saying that you were the Messenger!” *goes to get the book*

Me: *quietly, laughing very hard inside* “No, I’m just a Book Thief.”

Ah, the Markus Zusak jokes.

 

Anyway, some of you may remember that I reviewed “The Book Thief” a few months ago and while I loved Zusak’s writing, the book didn’t exactly seal itself onto my soul like it did with some of my friends. However, I did want to read more Zusak, so my friend Becki at awordshaker.com recommended this one. This is essentially a book about people. The most ordinary people you see on the street every day. Ed Kennedy is one of them. He’s an underage Australian cab driver in a small town who spends his free time playing cards with his even more average friends and hanging out with his dog, The Doorman. That stops, however, when a mysterious Ace of Diamonds with addresses arrives in the post.

Actually, I’m wrong. Ed’s normal life has arguably hit a roadblock when he inadvertently became involved in the most ridiculous bank robbery in history. Somehow, the town makes him out to be a hero. When he gets the Ace in the post, he goes to the addresses after a while and sees that there are people living there who need help. Of course, being your average Joe, Ed doesn’t understand how he can help them. Eventually, though, he finds a unique way to help each and every one of them. But the mysterious messages don’t stop there. More Aces arrive for Ed, and each card has a short message on it he is meant to decode and work out for himself what to do. The only question is – who is behind Ed’s mission? And why Ed, of all people?

I realise by now that you’re probably bored with the plot – be it my mediocre ability to summarise or the way this book differs from “The Book Thief” – but I urge you to pick up this book. I don’t know which book Zusak has enjoyed writing more, but “I am the Messenger” somehow seems like it was closer to his heart, and not just because it’s set in his home country. Although completely different from “The Book Thief”, I began to notice certain “Zusak-isms” about halfway through. He is clearly an author who takes pride in being a words addict and aficionado. That was actually my favourite thing about “The Book Thief” – Liesel’s love for words clearly reflected that they have a special place in Zusak’s heart. Ed Kennedy says something on page 212 of “I am the Messenger” that really got to me. He says: “I didn’t know words could be so heavy”. This sentence is only seven words long, and yet so meaningful. Ed may have used it to describe the way it feels to carry a bunch of heavy books, but all Zusak’s fans would clearly understand that it goes much deeper than that. It illustrates how far Ed has come – from a guy with no real spark in his life to a person who made a difference to the lives of so many. The author arguably uses the statement to allude to the fact that even a small thing, be it a word or a simple action like buying ice cream for a soccer mum in the park, can carry a lot of weight. Even the style of his writing – the short, snippy sentences who nevertheless say so much – is an illustration of the quote. Words are heavy, indeed. A book may be written pretentiously (which I do love) and still carry less weight than a work that doesn’t use fancy words and metaphors (and vice versa, of course). It all depends on the words and the weight behind them, as Zusak continues to show us.

I am not going to lie – after I finished the book, the theme of an ordinary human being making fundamental differences in other people’s lives made me tear up. Perhaps it was also due to the fact that I was at a Pro Bono thank you event earlier that day and my supervisor told me a story of a former homeless man whose life has been changed by the actions of our Law School Pro Bono association. He now has his own place and a stable job. His children are no longer ashamed of their father. In all fairness, we are all Ed Kennedy. Our extent of ordinaryness may be relative, but every day, we make a difference to others. Remember that cashier who told you to have a nice day? Or that little kid who stuck her tongue out at you on the commute this morning? Brightened up your day didn’t it? Some may say that Ed’s actions were in a completely different league, and I agree. However, what we must remember is that if an average nineteen-year-old cab driver can find the courage to change someone’s life, than so can you. If you don’t think you are capable of giving advice, or financial support, you don’t have to be. Be inspired by Ed, friends – a perfectly ordinary man who stood up and did what we could for the people who needed it. If he can do it – well, maybe everyone can. “I am the Messenger” gives us the opportunity to believe that everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of. I can honestly say that this book has made a small dent in my rather cynical view of life. There are many things Zusak excels at – but influencing people with his words is one thing that he has mastered perfectly.

The only thing that’s keeping me from giving “I am the Messenger” a 10/10 rating is the use of sexual assault as a plot device – it’s not something I can easily accept in literature. However, I am perfectly happy to rate it 8.5/10.

Favourite character

The book’s characters are flawed, and are not supposed to be likeable. However, they are all very funny – The Doorman has to be the funniest though. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when he didn’t die!

Character who gets the most development

Ed, obviously. The book is Ed-centric.

Favourite relationship

In my review of “The Book Thief”, I said that I couldn’t pick a favourite relationship because they were all so well-written. This trend continues here. However, the story of Ed and Audrey is so lovely in the same way it is ordinary. Besides, it is rare these days to see an emotionally unavailable woman in literature who is not shamed for being who she is.

Favourite quotes

“I didn’t know words could be so heavy.”

“People die of broken hearts. They have heart attacks. And it’s the heart that hurts most when things go wrong and fall apart.”

Dreamcast

Ed Kennedy – if Heath Ledger were alive today, he’d be perfect. Otherwise, Jacob Anderson

Audrey – Jayne Wisener

Recommendations

You might like “I am the Messenger” if you liked:

“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. Ed’s character development reminds me of Gus’s. Although Gus feared being forgotten and not making a difference in the world while Ed didn’t care, they both have come to the same conclusion by the end of their respective books – even if you only made a small difference in one person’s life, it matters.

“A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly

“Paper Towns” by John Green – I haven’t read it but people keep recommending it and it seems to have similar undertones

 

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Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Everyone I know has read this book and is raving about it. I generally really love books about books, so after some hesitation (I was slightly put off initially by the fact that the book is narrated by Death), I purchased a copy.

To put it very generally, this is a WWII book. It focuses on the life of a young orphan girl named Liesel during the war. What’s special about Liesel is that she is a book thief. She steals randomly at first, starting with “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”, and then more methodically. Her first stolen book can be argued to be the first thing that has drawn Death to Liesel. In effect, they are both book thieves, which is seen at the very end. Liesel is a lovely girl who, like many of us, falls in love with words. When she meets Max, who is a broken shell of a person, she tries to bring him back to life with the help of her love for the written word, which I could really relate to. When I was reading their scenes, it felt like I was reading about one adult comforting another, not a kid trying to help an adult. I knew that Liesel was very young at the time whereas Max was in his twenties, but it was impossible not to ship them. Perhaps it’s Zusak’s brilliant writing – the way he wrote people’s relationships in this book was the best aspect of it.

The question that is to be asked is whether I enjoyed this book. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Please hear me out:

Do I think Zusak is a bad writer? Not at all – I think he’s great.

Did I not enjoy or relate to the characters? I did – I think that most of them are fantastic.

Was the plot not for me – I wouldn’t say so, since I tend to enjoy any kind of historical fiction.

So what’s the problem you ask?

I honestly don’t know. Perhaps I couldn’t get used to the very unusual narrative voice and the time jumps. Or perhaps it’s because I know very few words in German and in my opinion, one has to at least have some understanding of a foreign language if it is featured prominently in a book. I’ve got the same problem with “War and Peace” – I never actually finished it because my French isn’t great. Either way, despite being a wonderful work of fiction, “The Book Thief” was just not for me. However, don’t let it put you off – Markus Zusak is a brilliant writer and his characters are very relatable. I can easily see why this book would become someone’s favourite. My rating – 7/10.

Favourite character and why:

Hans and Liesel – they are both wonderful and relatable people who get a lot of development. Hans’ bravery and compassion are what makes him a wonderful father figure for Liesel.

Most relatable character and why:

Liesel – I loved books just as much as she did when I was her age, and I also spent a lot more time hanging out with boys rather than girls, and doing the stereotypical boy things. I’d have loved to have a friend like Rudy though!

Character who gets the most development:

Rosa

Favourite relationship:

Liesel/Hans, Liesel/Rudy, Liesel/Max – if there is one thing Zusak is good at, it’s portraying human relationships. I can’t pick a single favourite!

Favourite quote:

“A human doesn’t have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugliness and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing that I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die”. 

Dreamcast

Hans: Jim Broadbent/Geoffrey Rush

Liesel: Kerry Ingram/Sophie Nelisse

Rudy: Thomas Brodie-Sandster

Max: Ben Schnetzer – perfect choice

Rosa: Emily Watson

Recommendations: 

You might like “The Book Thief” if you liked:

– “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith;

– “The Diary of a Young Girl”, by Anne Frank;

– “Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon