Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Anne-Liesel Parallel; Divided in history, United by books.

“What do these children do without story books?" Naftali asked. And Reb Zebulun replied: "They have to make do. Storybooks aren't bread. You can live without them.""I couldn't live without them." Naftali said.”
-Isaac Bashevis Singer 

Often there comes a book that stays, stays in way that it crawls under your skin and flows through your veins, you wake up wondering if you had somehow managed to travel back in time and relive a certain part of a not so far away past. I came across Anne Frank's Diary when I was in school and I've read it a few times after. Each time I had a mix of goosebumps, tears, fear and hope. Roll ahead a few more years this brilliant book made it's way to my life; The Book Thief. 

The plot of the book thief is about a little girl Liesel who steals books and reads them, the timing of the occurrence is during world war II, Luckily (and I use this word very loosely) Liesel is German, the possibility of her ending up in a gas chamber are low... The book revolves around various complexities of her life. The book deals with love, relationships, loss, hope and recovery.. more importantly it deals with books. The love she feels for them and how she directs all of her tiny self towards books, how they fill her with happiness. Now there isn't anything about a book that a book lover will not relate to, the excitement, the joy, the hope it gives you, the faith it restores. Why this book makes you want to keep flipping through the pages is not just the love for books but the dire situations that makes you respect this little girl.

I remember when I first read Anne Frank, I was amazed that someone would even consider reading and education when there is such a war outside,I thought the thing to do when a sense of impending doom lurks around the corner was probably to curl up in a tiny corner and wait for death or something. I am not proud that I thought so, but at that time I actually thought it was impossible to imagine something as normal as reading when there was a war at your doorstep. I began to wonder how Frank wrote about such everyday instances, how she brought herself to write about her future, I wonder how she wrote so easily about normal things, the diary is not a war diary, it simply is the diary of a little girl in the times of war. She talks about love too, she talks about her learning, how she hopes to go back.

As I was reading the Book Thief, I swear I had goosebumps, I had tears and I was overwhelmed. I was deeply touched. But throughout I could think of Anne Frank, I could not take the image out of my mind. Two girls, same place, same age, one in hiding, the other one helping someone hide, one had Peter, the other had Rudy, both have parents, both struggling to make ends meet. It gave me chills to think that the only real difference was that one was German, the other was Jew. War has it tough for everyone. Both Liesel and Anne are testament that nothing about a war is pretty. People die. Enemies, friends, families. There is no winning side. 

A deep connection however was in the fact that both Anne and Liesel found comfort in books. When people ask why I read I think this is pretty much why. Of course, I sit in my comfortable little chair when I say I read because ____________ but the point is, when despair strikes like a hammer at a gong what do you do?? Liesel and Anne are little girls who have very little control over anything that is happening around them. What do you do other than trying to be okay about everything? When I think of Liesel going about her business reading books in the middle of the night and Anne gazing up at the sky in the middle of the night, writing in her book hoping to be free soon, what gives them the courage to dream? It was those scraps of paper and printed ink. It gave them some sense of control, it gave them something to hang on to. Their books made them feel normal. When everything else was going to hell, their books were the only 'regular' thing from their previous lives, perhaps. 

I can only think of what must be going on in the minds of these kids. What they must be thinking? But I guess the universal appeal for books in lies in the fact that books give you an alternate reality, the occupy your senses, they take you away, even briefly, away from that attic, away from Mulching, away from death, doom. Books give you a shoulder to lean on. I say this from my personal experience, in world filled with noise, a book is the only steady companion. Books fill a void inside you. You don't read a book because you read a book. You read a book because it lets you leave. Go away.It is not on some whim that books have been around for so long. I can imagine how depressed I would be if I didn't read. We have our lives to deal with; that's not going away. But in our darkest hours when we want to leave, even for a moment, we let books do that for us. 

We need to find normalcy in our scattered living we call life. Of course there is hopelessness, there is injustice, the is anger...  Books contribute to filling us up intellectually, philosophically even but more importantly, books fill us up emotionally.
How nice it would be if we could just forget that. Just for a few minutes.

PS: I think The Book Thief and Anne Frank's Diary are too beautiful to be written about. As for a review, I wouldn't even attempt it. :)

PPS: I know Liesel is a fictional character, but to me she is very real.  

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