The reason I would not normally have bought this book is that it is set in Nazi Germany, and I would perhaps have thought "worthy subject, but I have read and read around that theme, and am not in the mood for it, and where is the joy?" See below the last time I read an in depth account of concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
How wrong could I be, of course wherever there is human life there is the scope of great cruelty and tragedy and beautiful joyful kindness side by side. Mark Zusak knew this, and his story carries us on a journey about individuals and their personal struggles and it is not essentially about a nation and its wartime politics of the day. However, it is about the small things that make a difference. The small things that have great significance in the storytelling tradition, especially when it is an oral history told by someone who experienced it (like the stories Zusack heard when he was growing up)
I loved this book. It was a surprisingly easy read for a subject of such depth, it flowed through me and it had many moments that made me laugh. It also made me sob in places, not from sadness but from its little spurs of emotion and the characters' touching gestures of kindness. It is also a book about words, their meaning and if any books inspires you to want to write, this one will. It confirms that we all have stories to tell. none of us has a lack of subject matter, all we need is the audience.
And one of the best aspects of all is that this book is narrated by Death. There are a couple of reasons why choosing Death to narrate can be very effective. Read the book and find out why!
When I was struggling to come to terms with the severe pain that I suffer from, I found it enormously difficult to accept the pain and wanted to fight it off, but this actually made me more aware of it and I felt worse. Feelings I went through were panic, anger, bitterness a sense of injustice and a sense of hopelessness.
My gastroenterologist, who was also a psychiatrist and part of a pain management theraphy recommended a book to me Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl who is an Auschwitz (and many other death camps survivor). As well as a memoir of Aushwitz it is also the message that despite a person's circumstances, and those can be out of your control (i.e. my illness) a human being has one essential freedom that cannot be touched, and that is the freedom to choose how they react, cope and survive a situation. This is a fairly existential type of philosophy, in that we are totally alone in this universe and as such the author of our own lives and in total control of how we deal with anything that is thrown at us.
It just so happens, I had been given some psychology articles and pain management by my pain doctor which supported this view as well. In the article, it had said that those who expect to feel some pain, but will make an effort to treat as much of the pain as possible seemed to experience more tolerable levels of pain than those who try to deny its existence. Up until recently, unable to treat all forms of pain, those working in anaesthesia that held old fashioned beliefs would often put pressure on patients like me as their attitude would be that I was somehow weak in not 'putting up' with the pain that I could do nothing about. I can remember a time, when it felt like doctors were saying "Well done!" and pinning a medal on you if you went to them and said that stoically you were cutting back on your pain meds and fighting the illness like a soldier. There was an element of them feeling defensive and irritated if you complained of pain continuing, as this made them feel like a failure. However, modern pain doctors will not saw "How is the pain, what sort of level is it at" they are more likely to say "How are you coping with the pain, do you find your level of management and choice is adequate?"
This is the modern attitude to coping with pain, rather than stoically putting up and trying to deny it, you embrace it accept it and try as best you can with your drugs to treat it, but you don't panic or feel like a failure when it is really bad and breaks through. You can tell yourself "Oh well, so be it..." and make yourself as comfortable as possible and lie low, or like me lie in bed reading, and wait for those bad phases to pass. That is my choice and my own control over an uncontrollable medical condition.
Eerily, the acceptance of your own pain can be as much of an analgesic as any drug. I stopped struggling with it, stopped futile attitudes based on "It's not fair!..." type of thinking. I acknowledged, that other people made my pain worse because they so much wanted me to be well that when I was with them, I would try to deny that I was in pain, use mind over matter to try and please them and it DID NOT WORK!
When people care about you and want you to be well, or even if they don't care but feel irritation at you being ill, they put pressure on you to behave as if you are well to relieve their own symptoms of your pain, not yours. Of course I am never going to sit down and chant "I love my illness, I embrace my pain!" but I am going to think "Oh well, it is that time again, my body is going through one of those phases, I had better re-adjust my life and wait til it has passed". I do take every pain relieving method in the way of drugs I can, and I no longer feel guilty or see it as some sort of weakness in not coping with the pain, I see it as totally sensible, pragmatic and when the phase has passed, I can reduce the medication without any worries about not getting it back again the next time I am in a bad phase.
My life is probably really restricted compared with yours. I am often housebound, I rarely go shopping as I cannot carry anything I have bought and I spend a lot of time completely on my own with few friends that I actually socialise with. I don't go to gigs, clubs or pubs and I rarely go to the cinema. I can't really use public transport and can't go out with my dogs walking every day. However, my inner life is rich, I have freedom to choose what to do with my time and a freedom over the attitude I have towards my restrictions and this does not deserve sympathy but perhaps envy. So many people are stuck in jobs they hate, are not free to be creative and have personal ties that anchor them down. I don't have any of those, you could say I was lucky.
Actually, the way I view myself and my situation varies greatly from day to day, and I choose that view mostly, and so often do not communicate how I feel to other people for fear of a transient attitude defining me and anchoring me down.
Oops, this is a blog about knitting...........................Sorry!
And now, it is strange after all these years to have walked into a book shop and seen his name on the cover of a book I was going to buy anyway before I knew it was him! I have never read the book, perhaps worried about hearing his voice in my head when I read it and perhaps the fear of not being able to make the story my own entertainment in an objective way. He still owns it, and until I can distance myself a little, I feel like I don't want to read it.
I certainly would feel a little strange meeting him now. Apart from the fact I have changed so drastically physically, I can hear the conversation now
"Hey....Jake, urm so you're an author now.....a really good one.....well done" (sniggers and gabbles nervously)"
"Yeah, I ur decided not to continue with the urm acting. And you? You've changed! What are you doing then"
"Oh nothing really......erm......I'm writing too actually....and I am a published author"
"Wow, is that right? So where could I find one of your books"
"In the mumble mmmmmmmm"
"Sorry, what? In the where?"
"Um in the knitting section!"
"Oh, I see...." shuffles nervously "Well you must excuse me, got all these other books to sign, there's quite a queue behind you now!"
"Well, goodbye, good luck, I see that you're Gay now!" Inwardly kicking self, God why did I have to mention that!