Tag Archives: Death

“The Book Thief”: more love

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, was the choice of my Jr High book club.  I bought this book seven years ago when I first started teaching and never got around to reading it, so I was grateful for my club of reading fans for picking it as our book to read.  And what a book!!


Source: http://sydneyjewishmuseum.com.au/shop/talk/markus-zusak/

It was interesting to me that in our first conversation about the book one of the students who had seen the movie adaptation said that she thought God was the narrator, not death.  This opened up a lot of conversations about death and how we talk and think about death. We thought it was interesting how much compassion death had for those he was collecting.  Throughout the novel, death repeated expresses his displeasure and distaste with humanity for the scale of work they create for him.  He reflects on how war is no longer an equal to him, but now a weapon used to destroy others completely.

As we read, the students were truly disturbed by the scenes of the Jewish prisoners being marched into Dachau, yet the approach was new and made them think about Hitler’s Germany in a different way.  They saw from the inside out what it was like for those who tried to resist: jail, concentration camps, sent to the front lines, beaten, whipped, bullied, shunned.

As death describes his work, he shows reverence for humanity and the human spirit.  He shows respect for those who live a full life and die well.  He shows compassion for those who are left behind.  He shows honour in how he perceives the importance of every single soul, even on the nights when he touches thousands of them.


Source: https://www.pinterest.com/katieahall91/the-book-thief/

I am happy to say that resilience was a word we were left talking about. Liesel, even after losing her friends and family, is able to continue on.  That ability to cope and live on was inspiring to the students in the book club.  They were devastated by the story Zusak tells and had a hard time moving beyond the cruelty of humans toward other humans.

Yet the worst part was bringing in some Canadian facts: Canadians allowed the cultural genocide of entire Nations and no one seemed to stop that (yet, we all know there are those who spoke for the trees, so to speak).

There are numerous accounts of the Canadian Government conducting experiments on students in Aboriginal residential schools: Psychic experiments, food and nutrition experiments.  Students also died in residential schools without proper records being kept.  Generations of families were broken and separated.  Thousands of children were filled with fear, shame, and guilt.  Culture, language, teachings, and stories were lost and destroyed in order for the Government to get rid of the “Indian Problem” so that they could use the land instead of sharing the land.  We, as Canadians, have a lot to see in our shared history with the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people who we share this land with.


Source: https://purposesearchers.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/residential-schools-in-canada/

For me The Book Thief was a new way of looking at humanity and the needless suffering we cause by being driven by our fears instead of acting always in love.  The majority of our conversations revolved around the relationships in the book and the connections people had with each out of genuine interest and love.  Walking away from this book I am left with the impression that we need to be reminded of our darkest moments so that we can see how fear and hatred thrive.  In order to live boldly in love, we need to see each other as beautiful humans and honour the beauty in all.

people are beautiful

Source: http://quotesgram.com/book-thief-quotes-and-page-numbers/

“What we all want should look a little more like love” (Shad).

“I am haunted by humans” (Death, The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12).


Source: http://www.relatably.com/q/death-quotes-book-thief


“Monkey Beach”: close to the spirit world

Where is the divide between the spirit world and the corporeal world? Is there a divide?
I know that when my Grandma died, people had dreams and visions of her and each encounter was comforting. When I was staying at an Aunt’s house with a cousin, I think that a long-lost cousin showed up to say hello. I believe that the Holy Spirit fills those who are willing and I think that the Spirit of Creation is present in the wind. Angels are present all the time, even if we don’t notice. So where is that divide?

I read Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson as part of a group looking at incorporating more FNMI (First Nations, Metis, Inuit) literature into our classrooms. The closest I have come to reading a book like Monkey Beach is Bessie Head’s novel A Question of Power, in which the main character wanders in and out of sanity.

Source: http://www.amazon.ca/Monkey-Beach-Eden-Robinson/dp/0676973221

Monkey Beach is the story of a teenage girl, Lisa, living in a Haisla community on the BC Coast. In the novel her brother, Jimmy, disappears on a fishing trip and Lisa takes off to help in the search of her brother in a speedboat while she remembers stories of her family and her experiences leading up to this moment. Throughout the novel Lisa encounters sightings of Sasquatches, conversations with the dead, dream visions, and a sacrificial relationship with T’sonoqua. All of these experiences of the spiritual world happen as Lisa tries to navigate Jr High, High School, the death of family members and friends, and a community broken by a local residential school and the trauma and violence that surround those who survived.

In an article about Monkey Beach, Kit Dobson writes:
“Lisa experiences the loss of other family members, rape, and pathologization for her encounters with the spirit world, which frequently take the form of a small, prophetic man who portends disaster. Her proximity with this spiritual realm connects her to what critics have seen as a more traditionally Native worldview, one in which Lisa might recover her sense of self and come to see her capacities for paraphysical perception as enabling rather than troubling, as a valuable asset to her community” (Castricano 802).

I think that the power of the spiritual world is something that is lost on most Canadians. Yet throughout the novel, Robinson makes the experiences and relationship Lisa has with the spiritual world something that is normal and an everyday occurrence that is not bizarre. In fact, her Ma-ma-oo (Grandmother) tells Lisa that she has a special gift, a gift that runs in the family. As a non-First Nations reader, I have to trust and believe in a new way of looking at the world: the connectedness between people, nature, and the spiritual world.

Source: http://haisla.ca/community/who-are-the-haisla/

Later in the same article, Dobson writes that “While writing a novel about Haisla characters, Robinson encounters limits placed on her by both the spiritual world and her elders. These keep her from discussing certain elements of Haisla life. So while Robinson has to negotiate a readership that generates unrealistic and problematic expectations about her work because of her role as a representative of her community, she also “has to worry about ticking off the denizens of the spiritual world, not to mention the entire Haisla Nation” (Methot 13).

How interesting! Although she is a story teller, she had to respect the boundaries of what she could share with a larger audience, including the boundaries of respect for her Elders, her Community, and the Spirit World. I find that idea fascinating.

Source: http://www.kitimatdaily.ca/go7278a/A_NATION_STRONG_THE_HAISLA_HOMECOMING

I appreciated Robinson’s narrative and the blur between the spiritual and psychical worlds. Through her story telling, I learned about a First Nation in BC through the eyes of a teenage girl struggling to find her place in life, a struggle every person on earth is familiar with, no matter which religion or nation.

Shaman's World, 1980 (Lyle Wilson)

Shaman’s World, 1980 (Lyle Wilson)

Source: http://www.spiritwrestler.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=48&products_id=6165

“The stories I was told growing up were full of supernatural creatures who were described the same way you’d describe your neighbours. Oh, those sasquatches. Always stealing bivalves and blondes. Well, Wee’gits playing with the tide again. Crazy raven. Gran visited from the other side to say she wants more raisin pie in the next burning. A lot of that attitude comes into play when I’m writing. I tend to view the supernatural characters like the other characters, prone to idiosyncrasies and family squabbles” (Eden Robinson in an interview).

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2).

Stepping Out of Darkness, John P. Wilson

Stepping Out of Darkness, John P. Wilson

Source: http://www.spiritwrestler.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=48&products_id=6581