Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein

The Invisible Wall is an elaborately detailed memoir of a ninety-something-year-old man's recollections of a WWI era childhood in a small English town just outside of Manchester. It focuses in on one particular street where the poorer sect lived. On one side lived the Christians and on the other, the Jews. Their situations were almost identical yet a void existed between the two sides that was nearly impossible to cross. Both sides feared each other; neither liked things that were different from themselves. But, one love affair (at least temporarily) changed everything. Bernstein's vivid descriptions brings a street you come to know almost as well as your own comes together as one.

Bernstein's narrative begins long before the void-filling love affair actually takes place and relives all the significant events from his childhood memories from how his mother earned money to care for her family to the way his alcoholic father stormed out of the house each night. Bernstein introduces you to all his neighbors - on both sides of the street - and retells events significant in their lives too.

The memoir is so engaging and the story is so accessible that before you know it, you're living young Harry's life right beside him - saddened when he's denied admission to a better school because of his shoes (and his religion,) tearful when he witnesses the death of a war veteran, and heartened when he first becomes an uncle.

Additionally appealing is that this story is real. It's not some fictionalized tale about overcoming prejudices and uniting under the commonality of humanity. This is the childhood of one boy who saw both hate and love emanate from one tiny street, a microcosm of an entire "era" in our history.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Trey and I downloaded this as an audio book for a recent road trip. Although I'm always partial to reading the book rather than listening to it, the narrator for this particular audio book was excellent and I'd actually recommend it. She drifts between character's voices and the narration smoothly with several distinct voices that add a nice bit of color to the narration.

The first book in a trilogy, The Hunger Games opens us up to a to a future dystopia where North America ceases to be broken into states and countries. There's just one, Panem, consisting of a capitol and 12 districts. Seventy years ago in Panem's history, the districts rebelled against the capitol and are now punished yearly through the Hunger Games, a competition that pits children between 12-18 years of age - a boy and a girl from each district - against each other to the death. Reminiscent of the movie, Running Man, the children are given weapons, trained, coached, and helped along the way by sponsors as they struggle to survive in the Hunger Games arena.

The story is told through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen the female "tribute" sent from District 12 to compete in lieu if her younger sister who was initially chosen in the lottery. Katniss comes from a poor family, but is a skilled hunter. Peeta is the boy chosen from District 12. A baker's son, Peeta enters the games with fewer physical survival skills than Katniss. Both children play the game intelligently - giving them a fighting chance at survival.

Living in poverty, winning the games is the only hope these children have to improve and protect their lives. This dire predicament transforms all types of children into killers, some Tributes have trained their whole lives to survive the games, while others are practically helpless. Everyone has their own set of skills and their own array of advantages and disadvantages. You have no idea who's going to win.

Forced to watch the games live, the people of Panem place bets on who will win and attempt to scrape together money to sponsor a child, sending in a much-needed gift for a participant of their choice. This gives a distinct advantage to the popular players since these gifts could mean the difference between life and death for that child.

The Hunger Games is a young-adult novel with definite appeal to for an older crowd. The story is engaging, full of graphic description, social commentary on the cruelty of a corrupt political regime, and intelligent, driven characters that you begin to root for to win. While there are elements of science fiction to the novel, it's completely accessible for anyone and a very exciting read. Trey and I are looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy.