So, what’d you think?! Let’s discuss…
This is yet another World War II novel.
But it is a beautiful World War II novel, and I see why it won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Between the characters and the fantastically woven plot ribbons, this novel touched my heart and maybe even a little bit of my soul.
As a writer, the most immediate gut-wrenching response I had was towards the intricate plot. Anthony Doerr wove a tapestry of actions and reactions that pulled me through the entire story in just a few sittings. I had trouble putting the book away because I was so wrapped up in his story.
I envied how effortless he made each plot intertwine with the others: Werner, who wonders about the radio show from his childhood; Marie-Laure who worries about the jewel at the museum while taking care of her Uncle Etienne who hides away listening to his radios that remind him of his brother. It takes so much effort to summarize how everything is connected, but Doerr includes just the right details to tie it all together.
What phrases from the novel did you think did the best job of tying the plot lines together? Why?
I also thought that telling the story out of order, chronologically, helped to build the conflict and tension. Even before you really get to know about Werner, Marie-Laure and Etienne (among others), you are on the edge of your seat as you watch the bombs fall upon the city. Then, little by little Doerr guides you through the journey that brought them to the city and through the bombing.
The characters were also really well written. Their voices were unique and sang clearly through the chaos of the voices of war. It was most definitely the characters in this novel that made it Pulitzer Prize winning. They were all so different, yet relate-able. I connected with a brave little blind girl, an engineering orphan, a Nazi relic collector and a shut-in. That takes talent.
Who was your favorite character? Why?
What part of the story made them your favorite?
The only criticism I have of this novel is the ending.
What Doerr builds so beautifully in the first three quarters of the book just seems to unravel after the climax. Every connected thread, carefully woven together through the exposition, rising action, the jumping back and forth in time and point of view, just…
Like that, it fades away. I felt that instead of tying the story together, it let it fall apart.
I won’t give away any spoilers (in case you are reading this before reading the book). But take, for example the return to minor characters that we didn’t follow for much of the story. The characters who appeared, briefly for a spark of color in this story’s tapestry, and then disappeared as their story parted from the main characters. The denouement catches up with them, but I felt it was unnecessary and ultimately detracted from the story. They had already played their part, and to return to them for so briefly was like showing the back stitching of the story- the extra threads and little knots are meant to be hidden.
What did you think? Was it worth the words to catch up with Jutta and Frederick and the others?
What criticisms, if anything, did you have of the novel?
Okay, so first of all, the title of this book is fantastic. At first, it seems a declaration, a shout and grand pronouncement of an identity full of accomplishment. After all, I chose this book because I wanted to know more about the young woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize.
But after reading it, the meaning of the title reflects a deeper humility. She is Malala, a young girl. No different or greater than any other person. It is a reminder of what small acts done for a good cause can accomplish, and an encouraging plea for others to follow in her footsteps.
It is her humility, I think, that makes this book soooooooo powerful. It establishes a theme, that is well developed throughout her memoir. Malala focuses so much on her normal day to day life, and the situation that exists in Pakistan, rather than elaborating on her particular efforts to change them. In her eyes, it seems, the interviews and letters and essays are a small act that she can accomplish to try to make a difference. The real problem and the real story of her life is in the everyday occurrences of fighting with her brothers, gossiping with her friends, and studying her school lessons.
What did you think about Malala’s descriptions of her life in Pakistan?
What did you think about Malala’s description of her family and friends? How are they similar to your family and friends?
I was also impressed with her dedication to increasing women’s education, which stems from first hand experience with the lack of access that many women have. It made me think: Do I appreciate the education I receive?
The answer is: yes. So much so, in fact, that I am now a teacher. Oftentimes I feel like my students do not always appreciate the education I am trying to offer them. I wonder if reading Malala’s story would change their opinion of school at all, or change their opinion of the value of education.
How did Malala’s story affect your view of education or the importance of education?
Do you think that education can change the world?
What can you do to increase the quality and access to education in your community or country or in the world?
Overall, I am really impressed by this memoir. English is NOT Malala’s native language, yet she expresses herself and her ideas well using words that she has to translate. The effort must have been monumental– I have trouble writing something of worth in English and it is the only language I know!
It did remind me of one great quote by Benjamin Franklin:
“Either write something worth reading,
or do something worth writing.”
I believe Malala has done both.
Do you agree?
What was your overall opinion of I Am Malala?