The Book Thief

The Book Thief

My March book from The Great Re-Read of 2015 was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

My review after reading it for the second time is as follows:

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

It is painfully beautiful and it will destroy you.

This review was brought to you by a girl who spent her morning in tears as a result of the words within these pages.

Thank you for your time.

But seriously though.

This book was given to me as a present by Chris. He can’t remember where he got it from or when he bought it, or even the actual act of buying it.  Fortunately some of us were paying a bit more attention and I’ve been able to narrow the field down slightly- he bought it from a shop here in Manchester, and I think he may have picked up another book for himself at the same time.  I was either heavily pregnant with, or had just given birth to Rudy at the time, as I remember joking that it was a “Thanks for having my baby” present.  That’s significant in a way, as one of the main characters in the book is a Rudy, a beautiful boy with “hair the colour of lemons”, making it impossible for my heart to remain intact when I read it, although honestly I suspect that’s a challenge for everyone who reads it regardless of whether they have a Rudy in their lives or not.

The book is set in Nazi Germany and follows the story of Liesel- a young girl who steals books.  It is also a book narrated by Death.  Yes, you heard me right:  Death tells the story of Liesel, and those close to her during the second world war and his words are brutal and unflinching but also poetic and beautiful.  The story has traces of dark (very dark really…ok, pretty much black if we’re honest) humour and is full of incredibly poignant observations about human nature.

It is also, of course, rooted in historical accuracy and real-life events.  Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the outbreak of war, Kristallnacht, Stalingrad, the concentration camps…all REAL things, that happened to REAL people.  They are also difficult things to read about, to understand, and to digest.  But when woven into a story like The Book Thief, have the strange effect of becoming at once more tangible and yet even more hideously unbelievable.  “How did that happen?!”  We ask ourselves.  And stories show us the answer: horribly easily.  So when my stomach churns reading about Max hiding in the cellar and when I cry over the fate of Rudy, I’d usually tell myself It’s not real, but although The Book Thief is a work of fiction, in this case I can’t.  Because while Max and Rudy may not have existed anywhere other than in Zusak’s imagination, people exactly like them did, which is what is at once so incredibly terrible and wonderful about the story.  Having Death as the narrator is really just the icing on the cake- it would have been a fantastic book told from any point of view, but Death gives it a unique perspective and voice that lingers in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page.

So that was my experience of re-reading The Book Thief: tears.  Lots of tears.

And I think you should all go and read it RIGHT NOW.

Next month’s book will be The Outcast by Sadie Jones, another second-time read for me, so I’ll be back in April blogging my experience of that.

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The only blog post I’ve written about my dreadlocks

This is it.

I thought I’d blogged about them before but apparently not, which it makes it kind of ironic that I am doing now after removing them.

Oh wells.

9 months ago I went from this:

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To this:

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It took ten hours and when I got home with my new hair the boys were delighted that I had “become a dinosaur”.

In the months that followed I learned a lot about life with dreads that no amount of research beforehand could really have prepared me for.  Such as:

PEOPLE WILL STARE

Just ask Chris, who couldn’t quite believe the level of interest my head attracted on a trip to Starbucks with the kids.

AND POSSIBLY CROSS THE ROAD TO AVOID YOU

Elderly woman who lives on my street- I’m talking about you lady.

AND ASSUME YOU a. SMOKE POT AND b. CARRY IT ABOUT YOUR PERSON AND c. WILL BE HAPPY TO SHARE IT WITH THEM

Sorry to disappoints you.

EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW “WHY?”

You’ll get this question a lot, and if you don’t have a deep and profound reason, as I didn’t, you might want to make something up.

EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW “HOW LONG YOU’LL KEEP THEM”

I said “forever” in answer to this one and/or shrugged.  What I really meant was “for as long as I want” which turns out to have been about 9 months.

NO ONE WILL BELIEVE YOU WHEN YOU SAY THAT YOU WASH THEM

You have to wash them.  Really, you do.  Maybe not quite so often as you had to wash your normal hair (if you’re lucky) but you still gotta shower, people.

WHEN NITS BREAK OUT IN YOUR KIDS CLASS, EVERYONE WILL LOOK AT YOUR HEAD, AND THEN TRY TO LOOK LIKE THEY WEREN’T

I would like to take this opportunity to declare that I do not have nits.  I have not had nits since I was a kid. And my kids do not have nits.  Furthermore, if someone with dreads does get nits, it is not the end of the world, and they would not need to shave their head…although personally, I would probably have adopted a “KILL IT WITH FIRE” approach as nits are one of my worst fears.

YOU NEED PATIENCE, PATIENCE AND MORE PATIENCE

And I just don’t. Have any.

The truth is, that the things I loved most about having dreadlocks were also some of the things that I hated most too, which sounds crazy I know.

But like, the weather thing…dreads don’t move when the wind blows.  Well, I imagine they do if it’s strong enough, but in general, they’re pretty sturdy.  At first I found that to be amaaaaazing, no random hair whipping around your face, sticking to your lips/eyelashes, getting in your mouth, preventing you from seeing where you’re going…but then, I don’t know- I just missed it.  I want to physically experience rain curling my hair and wind blowing it around I guess.  Which definitely sounds crazy, but I don’t care- it’s true!

Also- assumptions.  I loved that in a room of people, strangers or people who didn’t know me very well would make certain assumptions about me based on the fact I had dreadlocks…but that only stands when the things they are assuming are POSITIVE…that I’m young (sort of correct) carefree (absolutely incorrect) veggie (trying, but failing) and liberal (very).  When the assumptions are, shall we say…less positive, then it’s not as much fun is it?  And you can call me over-sensitive (because I am) but there were some occasions when I caught looks or had attitudes from strangers that really took my breath away.

And finally- practicality. In some ways they are the ultimate low-maintenance ‘do’…you don’t have to consider how you’re going to style them (at least, not when they’re the length mine were anyway), it’s either tied up, or not tied up.  You don’t need to comb, brush, curl or straighten, you don’t need to put products in (in fact, you absolutely shouldn’t) BUT on the other hand, I did still need to wash them almost as often as I’d washed my normal hair (once or twice a week for dreads, as opposed to two or three times for my regular hair), and unlike my natural hair, which I almost always left to dry naturally, I HAD to blow-dry my dreads to avoid them getting/smelling damp, the exception being the 3 week heatwave we had last summer.  And blow-drying them took aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaages…and I mean, motherfucking hours.  And oh god, it’s so boring.  Just recently, as I was contemplating whether or not my dreads journey was coming to an end, I really started to resent the entire evenings I had to dedicate to drying them.  Even breaking it up into 20 minute segments over the course of the evening, it’s still unbearably dull, let’s be honest.

Also dandruff: I have it.  It’s never been a real issue because it always got washed, conditioned and brushed away but with dreads it just built up and up and even though no one commented, I still felt majorly self conscious if anyone sat or stood next to me.  So I spent a lot of time trying various methods to combat that too.  All in all, the result was that they really weren’t, the totally laid-back, minimal effort thing that I’d imagined.

All this is sounding very negative, and I really don’t mean it to be.  Because I LOVE dreadlocks, and maybe one day I will have them again.  I have an image of myself as an old woman with loooooong grey dreads and an general aura of “GIVES ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKS” that I’m not quite willing to give up on just yet, so one day I might go through all this again, and who knows, maybe I’ll actually get further along the road with it. But for now, I think I am happy to admire their beauty on other people.

I can tell you this though: it was absolutely worth the ten hours of having them put in, and the 17 hours (across five days) of taking them out just for that first hair wash alone. Oh goooooodddddd it was so good.  In fact, the whole experience of removing my dreads and having HAIR again has been incredible- the first time I tucked a stray hair behind my ear I was like OH WOW THAT FELT GOOD, DO PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THIS?!  Likewise for running my fingers through my hair, smelling my hair, shaking my head and experiencing something close to pure joy feeling my hair move around.  I haven’t been out in strong winds yet but BOY AM I LOOKING FORWARD TO THAT.

I feel like I am ending this post with the recommendation to GET DREADS AND THEN WHEN YOU’RE BORED TAKE THEM OUT AND FIND BLISS IN THE MUNDANE, and if that’s what you take from reading this, well then I guess that’s not so bad, but I think my point was going to be more along the lines of: Dreadlocks…I am so glad I had them, even for a short while, they introduced me to some awesome people and are the Ultimate Conversation Starter but I am also super sure that removing them was the right decision for me too.

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(After combing out the first one)

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(9 dreads down, 30 to go!)

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(some chopping was required!)

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(I somehow forgot just how curly my hair is!)

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(Not a bad result considering it was achieved solely with Ikea kitchen scissors, an entire bottle of tea tree conditioner and a comb! Oh, and you may notice I have one cheeky little dread left- that one’s staying…for now…)