The Messenger
The Book Thief

The Messenger by Markus ZusakBook Cover of The Messenger by Markus Zusak

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission? Winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love. After capturing a bank robber, nineteen-year-old cab driver Ed Kennedy begins receiving mysterious messages that direct him to addresses where people need help, and he begins getting over his lifelong feeling of worthlessness. Click here to read the full book review.

1. Discuss narrative voice and point of view in this work. The narrator is supposedly unaware of the tasks to be confronted but ultimately the writer is creating the tasks and so he is an omniscient figure lurking in the background. He admits as much to Ed (pp 381-6). Metafiction is a device which is commonly used by postmodern writers, although Zusak saves this surprise for last. Discuss.
2. Literary allusion is a prominent device in the novel which refers to many texts and writers. eg Ed is set a literary quiz (pp 218-227) concerning Graham Greene, Morris West and Sylvia Plath. Others mentioned include James Joyce’s Ulysses, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Wuthering Heights and ‘a beautiful, strange book called Table of Everything’. It also includes a range of other types of texts such as Films (Cool Hand Luke; Stir Crazy; See no Evil, Hear no Evil, and William Wyler’s Ben-Hur); Songs (Bob Dylan’s ‘The Hurricane’, ‘Oxford Town’; the Beatles’ ‘Eight Days a Week’ and Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’); Poems (‘Barren Woman’ by Sylvia Plath (pp 218-220) her The Bell Jar). There are also literary references embedded in the text for the reader to discover. eg Murder at the Cathedral (p 87); alice doesn’t live here anymore (p 130). Discuss some of the texts referred to in the novel in relation to its themes and style.
3. The humour used includes several devices such as satire, irony and parody. Read the passage in which Ed describes his love for his dog Doorman and then diffuses the emotion with a one-liner, ‘He just smells like he’s dead’ (p 20), and discuss the humorous devices used in it. Then choose another funny passage which appealed to you and discuss it too.
4. There are many ironies in Ed Kennedy’s life. One is in the name of the company for which he works—Vacant Taxi Company. What is “vacant” in Ed’s life? Explain the irony in Audrey’s statement, “You used to just be.... Now you’re somebody, Ed.” (p. 232) Discuss how Ed resolves the ironies in his life.
5. Describe Ed’s family. Explain what his mother means when she says, “Believe it or not—it takes a lot of love to hate you like this.” (p. 245) Ed’s mother says that his father promised to take her away. She resents the fact that he never did. Debate whether his mother is simply looking for someone to blame for her unhappiness. How is Audrey’s family similar to Ed’s family?
6. Discuss Ed and Audrey’s relationship. Audrey says that she likes Ed too much to have sex with him, and he says that he wants more than sex from her. Why does Audrey think that sex would ruin their relationship? What does Ed want from Audrey? It is obvious that Audrey is having sex with other guys. How does her attitude toward casual sex indicate disrespect for herself? Ed eventually learns that Audrey is in love with him. Why is she reluctant to reveal her love for him? What might Ed offer her at the end of the novel that he was incapable of offering in the beginning?
7. Ed and his friends are in a bank when it is robbed. Debate whether Ed is in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time.
8. After the robbery, Ed begins receiving the cards in the mail. Explain how Ed knows that each mission he is handed is serious business.
9. One of Ed’s first messages is to soothe Milla Johnson’s loneliness by posing as her deceased husband. How does this experience show Ed the real meaning of love? Then, Ed delivers a message to Sophie, the barefoot runner. Explain the courage that Ed learns from Sophie. What does Ed learn from each of the twelve messages that he delivers? How is each mission a lesson for the heart?
10. There are times when self-hatred is almost debilitating to Ed. Who is most responsible for his poor self-concept? How do the cards help Ed gain a more positive sense of self? Explain how Ed is both the messenger and the message. How does this support the theory that by helping others, a person helps himself? What does Ed mean when he says, “If I ever leave this place, I’ll make sure I’m better here first?” (p. 283)
11. Ed says, “I want words at my funeral. But I guess that means that you need life in your life.” (p. 298) How do the missions slowly put “life” in Ed’s life? Think about the words that each of the characters might offer Ed by the end of the novel.
12. Some readers like open endings, and others like distinct conclusions. What is your preference? Why do you think the author ended the novel the way he did? Make a case for both types f endings.

These questions were provided by the Publisher.

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The Book Thief by Markus ZusakBook Cover of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This was Natalie's Our Book Club book pick for June 2010 and also her book club pick. Natalie enjoyed the different style of writing about the Holocaust, a view from death's side and the sadness that his job involved. It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist—books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. It should be noted that in the US this is listed as a children's book, but we both agree that it would be a difficult book for children under 16-18 to understand the concepts of. This provided some fantastic discussion at the book club with everyone have different impressions and opinions (these comments are from the Publisher). Click here to read the full book review.

1. What did you think of Death as the narrator? Did it add to the story? What did you think of Death's random comments and thoughts spread throughout the book?
2. Why do you think Liesel and Max's relationship is left open at the end of the book? Do you think Max became Liesel's husband?
3. In the US, this is considered a children's book. Would you agree with this or do you think the concepts are more adult?
4. What is the relevance of Max using Hitler's Mein Kampf to tell his own story in?
5. Were you surprised by Rosa's compassion when they took in Max? Do you think she was a loving and caring person? What was the reasoning for her name calling?
6. What did you think of Papa's stance against the Nazi's - was he a brave man? Was this a smart move?
7. What is the relevance of Rudy's obsession with Jesse Owens? Is this ironic given the Nazi party wanting to select Rudy for further training?
8. What is ironic about Liesel’s obsession with stealing books? Discuss other uses of irony in the novel.
9. The Grave Digger’s Handbook is the first book Liesel steals. Why did she take the book? What is signifi cant about the titles of the books she steals? Discuss why she hides The Grave Digger’s Handbook under her mattress. Describe Hans Hubermann’s reaction when he discovers the book. What does the act of book thievery teach Liesel about life and death? Explain Rudy’s reaction when he discovers that Liesel isa book thief. How does stealing books from the mayor’s house lead to a friendship with the mayor’s wife? Explain how Liesel’s own attempt to write a book saves her life.
10. Liesel believes that Hans Hubermann’s eyes show kindness, and from the beginning she feels closer to him than to Rosa Hubermann. How does Hans gain Liesel’s love and trust? Decide whether Liesel is a substitute for Hans’s children, who have strayed from the family. Why is it so difficult for Rosa to demonstrate the same warmth toward Liesel? Discuss how Diesel’s relationship with Rosa changes by the end of the novel.
11. Abandonment is a central theme in the novel. The reader knows that Liesel feels abandoned by her mother and by the death of her brother. How does she equate love with abandonment? At what point does she understand why she was abandoned by her mother? Who else abandons Liesel in the novel? Decide whether she was abandoned by circumstance or by the heart.
12. Guilt is another recurring theme in the novel. Hans Hubermann’s life was spared in France during World War I, and Erik Vandenburg’s life was taken. Explain why Hans feels guilty about Erik’s death. Guilt is a powerful emotion that may cause a person to become unhappy and despondent. Discuss how Hans channels his guilt into helping others. Explain Max Vandenburg’s thought, “Living was living. The price was guilt and shame.” (p. 208) Why does he feel guilt and shame?
13. Death says that Liesel was a girl “with a mountain to climb.” (p. 86) What is her mountain? Who are her climbing partners? What is her greatest obstacle? At what point does she reach the summit of her mountain? Describe her descent. What does she discover at the foot of her mountain?
14. Hans Junior, a Nazi soldier, calls his dad a coward because he doesn’t belong to the Nazi Party. He feels that you are either for Hitler or against him. How does it take courage to oppose Hitler? There isn’t one coward in the Hubermann household. Discuss how they demonstrate courage throughout the novel.
15. Describe Liesel’s friendship with Rudy. How does their friendship change and grow throughout the novel? Death says that Rudy doesn’t offer his friendship “for free.” (p. 51) What does Rudy want from Liesel? Discuss Death’s statement, “The only thing worse than a boy who hates you [is] a boy who loves you.” (p. 52) Why is it diffi cult for Liesel to love Rudy? Discuss why Liesel tells Mr. Steiner that she kissed Rudy’s dead body.
16. How does Zusak use the literary device of foreshadowing to pull the reader into the story?
17. Liesel Meminger lived to be an old woman. Death says that he would like to tell the book thief about beauty and brutality, but those are things that she had lived. How does her life represent beauty in the wake of brutality? Discuss how Zusak’s poetic writing style enhances the beauty of Liesel’s story.

These questions are a compilation by Natalie, Reading Group Guides and the Publisher.

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