Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a novel by Australian author Markus Zusak.  It is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
The story is narrated by Death and set in Nazi, Germany, a place and time that the narrator notes were extremely chaotic with the horrors of war unfolding. 

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich who has been abandoned by her mother. She resorts to stealing and encounters something she can’t resist–books. She commits her first theft at her brother's funeral, taking the Grave Digger's Handbook  which has fallen to the ground. Liesel does not know how to read but learns with the help of Hans, her new step father. While Liesel sometimes joins up with a gang to steal food and the like, her only thieving passion really is for books. Not good books or bad books — just books. From her bedroom to the bomb shelter down the road, reading helps her commune with the living and the dead and finally, it is the mere existence of stories that proves to be her salvation. She shares stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.


The Book Thief was first published for adults in Zusak's native Australia. In the United States the intended audience has been for teenage readers as it has been labeled a YA novel. Some will argue that a book so difficult, long 552 pages and quite sad may not be appropriate for this age group. It is a fair criticism, but it's also the kind of book that can be life-changing. It offers the readers a believable, hard-won story of hope embodied in Liesel. She grows into a good and generous person despite the suffering all around her, and finally becomes a human even Death can love. It is an amazing story that unfolds with Liesel clinging to hope in the midst of poverty, war and violence and the realization that words alone will never be enough to save the people she loves. 

The Book Thief is about growing up in Nazi Germany. But it’s also about hope, love, family, rebelliousness, guilt, the human spirit and the beauty that tragedy can bring.

I recently spoke to a book seller at a large chain store regarding the surge in popularity of the book. A recent movie release of the book has helped keep sales brisk. Despite the length and subject matter of the book it appeals to all age groups.  I certainly would give it a high recommendation. It is an engrossing story and will leave the reader with a sense of gratitude not having to cope with the horrors of war and compassion for those whose lives were forever altered and diminished. 
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Ring of Coconut Fudge Cake
Cook's notes: This recipe was developed by Lucy Dellapiano. It was a winner in the Pillsbury Bake-Off in 2004. I came across the recipe on the back of a bag of Pillsbury flour at that time and it has been one my favorite cakes to make since.
The cake has a moist dense chocolate flavor enhanced by a tunnel of cream cheese mixed with coconut. It does not get any better than that!
The bundt cake serves 12-14. I recommend keeping the cake in the refrigerator because of the cream cheese layer. 
I added my own touch to the cake by using a favorite homemade chocolate frosting.
Cake Ingredients:
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup cooking oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups of flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup hot coffee
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts-reserve 1/4 cup for topping on frosting
Filling Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 8 oz. cream cheese softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup coconut
  • 1-1/4 cups of chocolate chips
Directions:
  • Grease a bundt pan
  • Combine sugar, oil, eggs and beat well
  • Add in rest of ingredients except nuts and beat well
  • Fold in nuts
  • Combine all cream cheese filling ingredients
  • Pour half the batter into the bundt pan 
  • Drop by large tablespoons filling ingredients into the batter
  • Pour rest of batter over cream cheese layer
  • Bake 50-60 minutes
  • Cool in pan 15 minutes, invert onto a plate
  • Frost and refrigerate one hour for frosting to set, cover cake loosely with foil
Fudge Frosting from Chocolate Cookery by Mable Hoffman
Cook's notes: Any extra frosting I put in a Tupperware container, wrap container in foil and freeze. It is enough for a pan of brownies or another cake.  
Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup of chocolate chips (6 oz.)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt 
  • 2-1/2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1-2 TB of milk if needed
  • 2 TB. Kahlua
Directions:
  • Combine butter, chips, sugar, milk and salt in a saucepan
  • Bring to a boil stirring constantly and simmer 3 minutes
  • Remove from heat, add powdered sugar, vanilla and Kahlua
  • Place pan in sink and beat until smooth with a mixer
  • Let frosting set for 20 minutes, frost cake and sprinkle with crushed nuts









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