Guest Post: Small Things Become Big in Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger
Note: This is a guest post from CEFS reader Anushree Nande, who blogs at Lost in Translation, and wrote this stellar tribute to Friday Night Lights aka The Greatest Television Show of All Time for Sabotage Times.
Interested in writing a guest post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves? Drop Sarah a line!
My love for Markus Zusak is a very well documented fact (you can read my reviews for his other books here and here), so you can imagine my delight at receiving a reply to my tweet about his I Am The Messenger (simply The Messenger for the Australian editions).
This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a few years now but couldn’t get around to before. In the mean time, I had managed to read Zusak’s The Book Thief, Fighting Ruben Wolfe and Getting The Girl and fall in love with his prose. Hence it was with a lot of (perhaps unfair) expectations that I started this book, and it says a lot about the quality that I didn’t feel let down. There were a few disappointing bits but we’ll get to that later.
The protagonist is Ed, a 19 year old underage cab driver with no real ambition or motivation in life. His father is dead, his mother hates him and he was never really close to his high-achiever brother. He lives in a rundown shack with an old, smelly, coffee-addicted dog called the Doorman and is hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. The rest of his circle consists of similar drifters--yet as we read more, we realise that each carries some baggage under the surface of their aimless conversations, ritualistic card games and easy brand of camaraderie.
“How well do we really let ourselves know each other?”
This mundane pace of Ed’s life is disrupted when he unknowingly foils a bank robbery and receives an Ace of Diamonds in the mail with three addresses and times. Thus begins his job as ‘The Messenger’ and a string of events that will change everything.
Protect the diamonds.
Survive the clubs.
Dig deep through the spades.
Feel the hearts.
This is an engaging, life-affirming piece of work, the kind that will suck you in and change you so that a part of you stays in the book, with those characters and in those places.
Most of Zusak’s books deal with an underdog, a regular, normal guy who becomes special through his choices and his actions when faced with a potentially difficult situation. Ed is no different. He isn’t chosen as the Messenger because he’s extraordinary in any way. Yet he soon starts to feel a sense of responsibility, a need to see the assigned tasks through and pushes beyond his own limits, his personal comfort-zone and even his safety, just to help the steady stream of strangers he encounters with each Ace.
Inside, I laugh. Me? A saint? I list what I am. Taxi driver. Local deadbeat. Cornerstone of mediocrity. Sexual midget. Pathetic cardplayer. I say my final words to her. ‘No, I’m not a saint, Sophie. I’m just another stupid human.’
If a guy like you can stand up and do what you did, then maybe everyone can. Maybe everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of.
The ending is an unnecessary cliché (and for me, the weakest part of the book) to drive home the message of the narrative, that everyone is special in their own way and capable of living up to and beyond that inherent potential. It is a sweet message, but for me the real treasure was the author’s ability to focus on the small, simple moments of all our lives and bring out their beauty. There was no constant drama, cliff-hangers or murders and personally the identity of the mysterious person sending the Aces to Ed never really mattered, it wasn’t the reason I felt compelled to read on. It is the journey we undertake along with Ed as he navigates through these cryptic messages, grows, finds out more about himself, the people around him, interacts with complete strangers and makes us root for his well-meaning good heart.
I read on for the humanity, the brief glimpse into the lives of a wide range of supporting characters who felt very real, the power of random acts of kindness, the little moments that came and went but lingered--running barefoot at 5.30am, Christmas lights, an ice cream cone in the park, an old lady on a bench swinging her too-short legs--Zusak has an unerring way of putting into words the everyday thoughts, feelings and observations you’ve tried hard to express, or never really known that you wanted to.
This isn’t about words.
It’s about glowing lights and small things that are big.
This is a common thread that runs through all of his stories. Small things that are big.
Simple life truths and seemingly cliché content turned on its head and used to create something unique, something fresh, something that manages to transcend the pitfall of overt sentimentality but makes you laugh, cry and introspect with its emotional punch. The writing is Zusak’s irresistible brand of poetic viscerality with vivid imagery and the inherent rhythm in his sentences, in the silences between his words.
Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks.
Not in what they say.
Just in what they are.
I don’t think it is fair to compare this with The Book Thief (very different content and circumstance). For fellow fans, this is a very good book that should be enjoyed for its own merits, for the change in your own selves once you reach the end, the sense of purpose you feel about doing your bit in this chain of transforming good. For new readers, read this for the magic of Zusak’s prose, his unassuming characters and ability to make you think and feel with an intensity that will surprise you.
I think she ate a salad and some soup. And loneliness. She ate that, too.
Anushree Nande has Creative Writing Bachelors and Masters from Edge Hill University. Born and brought up in Mumbai, India, she is an eternally optimistic and fiercely loyal Gooner Girl. She freelances for various magazines, blogs, literary websites on books, writing, football, film, TV and has had short stories and poems published. She is also a freelance editor and proofreader. Anushree is working on her first novel and her Facebook writing page can be found here.