Oh, it's good reading weather here in Minnesota. We are enjoying temperatures hovering around zero, negative double digits coming later this week, and temporarily frozen pipes (a situation now resolved). As long as your furnace is working, it's the best time to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea.
The House of Stairs is the third book I've read by Barbara Vine and I believe it is one of her earlier books. In it we meet Elizabeth, a young aspiring writer; Cosette, a widow determined to forge a new sort of life that is quite Bohemian; Christabel, a beautiful woman whom we know has murdered, and a host of other mostly eccentric characters. The House of Stairs is the house that Cosette purchases after her husband dies and she fills it all sorts of people ostensibly to help her, but in fact they really just keep her company on her dime. Too much more of the plot and I'll have given it all away. Vine takes her time telling this story, as she always seems to do, and we do not find out all the secrets until the end. Vine's mysteries are more about the journey than they are about the answers and I think that's what I enjoy so much about them.
The book I finished last night was one that just kept popping up everywhere - on all the blogger 'best of 2007' posts, and even since then in numerous posts. The book itself is covered with praise so it is a critical and popular success, it seems. I don't generally walk into a bookstore, buy a book, and feel compelled to read it immediately, but that is just what happened with The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. I was resistant to this book at first: narrated by death? The bold asides starting on the first page and continuing throughout the book? I thought perhaps this book was not for me. I was wrong. In a nutshell, The Book Thief is the tale of Liesel Meminger, a young girl sent to live with a foster family in Nazi Germany. She is illiterate and arrives there with a book she has stolen. Liesel does learn to read and thus begins a love affair with books and words. All the while, the war goes on around her affecting her in ways big and small, in a more general sense and also more personally. Liesel's family gives shelter to a Jewish man and this adds yet another dimension to her life. The story sounds simple really, but it is beautifully and compellingly told. This was one of those books I got lost in, forgetting everything around me. At the very least, this book has such an interesting viewpoint, that of a small German town whose people are just trying to get by and are not interested in waging a war against their fellow citizens. Certainly this is not a topic I've read much about. In the event I am not the last person to read this book, I do recommend it to anyone.
When I finished the book last night I was thinking about a scene in The Sound of Music show, which we just went to see a few weeks ago. Do you remember the scene in the film when the Von Trapp family sings in the contest? During the show, it was staged such that we, the audience, were the audience of that event, and suddenly as it began, I noticed a flash of red. Looking right, I saw that from the box closest to the stage was hanging a Nazi flag and the box contained Nazi officers. I looked towards the stage to see (and we were quite close, third row) Nazi guards were standing in the audience. When it was discovered that the Von Trapps were missing after their performance, the guards ran around the theatre with their flashlights bright and burning. It was a very strange experience, one that made me feel deeply uncomfortable, and I felt that flag as a symbol of fear and terror. I appreciated that it was done, that I felt for just a moment that feeling of being watched. Not that I would ever have been on that side of things; my father's side of the family is Jewish and were it not for the immigration of my great grandparents during the time of the Russian pogroms I would not be here today.