Thursday, August 6, 2009

Memorable Characters

"[I] keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would like to be, and what I could be, if…there weren’t any other people living in the world.” – Anne Frank

I’m quite certain that anyone who has ever read The Diary of Anne Frank, will never forget Anne. Her diary is a testament of the ravages of war and the determination to survive under the worst of conditions. I bring this up because August 1 was the 65th anniversary of the date of the last entry in her diary—the above quote.

Also, I recently finished reading another book that brought to mind Anne Frank. It was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Unlike The Diary of Anne Frank, The Book Thief is fiction. However, it is based on stories the author heard when he was a child. According to Zusak’s web site:

“When I was growing up, I heard stories at home about Munich and Vienna in war-time, when my parents were children. Two stories my mother told me affected me a lot. The first was about Munich being bombed, and how the sky was on fire, how everything was red. The second was about something else she saw...

One day, there was a terrible noise coming from the main street of town, and when she ran to see it, she saw that Jewish people were being marched to Dachau, the concentration camp. At the back of the line, there was an old man, totally emaciated, who couldn't keep up. When a teenage boy saw this, he ran inside and brought the man a piece of bread. The man fell to his knees and kissed the boy's ankles and thanked him . . . Soon, a soldier noticed and walked over. He tore the bread from the man's hands and whipped him for taking it. Then he chased the boy and whipped him for giving him the bread in the first place. In one moment, there was great kindness and great cruelty, and I saw it as the perfect story of how humans are.”

What is unique about The Book Thief is the narrator is Death. Zusak actually succeeds in making Death a likeable character who is only trying to do his job the best he can under such horrendous conditions. I admit, I’ll always think about Death differently from now on. Death, like everyone who reads the book, is drawn to Liesel, the nine-year-old book thief. Her foster parents, Rudy, Max and the Mayor’s wife are also remarkable characters.

With the nightly news report enough to depress Pollyanna herself, why would I want to read a depressing book about war and death? It came highly recommended by my sister and daughter, whose opinions I trust. They didn’t let me down.

Though sad, it was also heartwarming. Like The Diary of Anne Frank, it shows how resilient people can be; how small things can bring such joy; how a tiny kindness can have a huge effect; how words can be used for good and evil; and, how people find a way of becoming what they would like to be… against all odds.

I am in awe of authors who can bring characters to life so vividly that they remain with us long after the story has faded. What characters have stayed crystal-clear in your mind long after reading the book they appeared in?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank, Markus Zusak, The Book Thief,


L. Diane Wolfe said...

The characters in Watership Down have always stayed with me, not only because of their struggle to survive but determination to prosper. It's not about rabbits but the strength of the human will.

L. Diane Wolfe

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I've kept away from reading "Book Thief" because of the sad subject, but will have to put it on my to-read list b/c of your recommendation. It's good to hear there are bright moments and uplifting parts, too.

I always liked Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice."

Mystery Writing is Murder

Galen Kindley--Author said...

The holocaust and things related are endlessly fascinating. Not sure why. Perhaps it’s because of the stories of the survivors and how they preserved against all hardships. Very moving tributes. Perhaps it’s because you just can’t believe one group of people could be so persistently cruel and vicious to another group of humans. It would never work as fiction…too unbelievable.

I’ve been to Dachau. There’s a memorial and museum on the site. It’s quite the moving thing to see and visit. It brings the horror to life in a tangible way. The message, never forgot, never allow this kind of thing to happen again.

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Karen Walker said...

I stood staring at the exhibit of shoes and suitcases and eyeglasses at Aushwitz, and in the courtyard where prisoners were shot and still couldn't quite believe the horror that had taken place there. Evil is hard to imagine. We musn't forget it can happen.
As for memorable characters, Jo from "Little Women," is the one that stands out for me.

Patricia Stoltey said...

There are so many, from the hope and tragedy of Anne Frank to the cunning and fun of Miss Marple to the flair and fire of Scarlet O'Hara. Those authors who create characters that live forever are the authors we visit again and again, no matter their genre.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Thank you all. You had some great examples of memorable characters.

I've also visited Dachau as well as the house where Anne Frank lived in hiding in Amsterdam - both emotional experiences.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Anne Frank sits in a special place for me as that was the first professional role I played back when I was 16. I had read her diary of course and the previous summer I had visited the house. The scraps of a map still taped to a wall that marked the ongoing invasion is heartbreaking. The terror I could feel permeating the air in the hallway was palpable. Anne Frank. Remarkable.

Purely fictional characters that I treasure? Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley, Martha Grimes' Richard Jury and Melrose Plant and (I know they're not books, but...) all Aaron Sorkin's characters from the West Wing. Let's not forget Shakespeare's Beatrice. So many characters, so little time!

Helen Ginger said...

Sounds like a fabulous book! I've not heard of it before this.

Straight From Hel

Morgan Mandel said...

I never read The Diary of Anne Frank, but I won't ever forget the movie. It was very powerful.

Morgan Mandel

mel said...

I loved "The Book Thief'. It is set in a time and place of great evil with this evil being pervasive.

Alexis Grant said...

Excellent points -- What is it about these characters that make them stay with us?? I hope I can do the same with my characters.

Marvin D Wilson said...

Very good points. Nothing makes a story better or holds a book more vividly in one's memory than memorable characters.

The Old Silly

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world