Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Review of The Storyteller

Title: The Storyteller
Author: Antonia Michaelis
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Publisher: Amulet
Publication date: January 1st, 2012

Jacket copy:
Anna and Abel couldn't be more different. They are both seventeen and in their last year of school, but while Anna lives in a nice old town house and comes from a well-to-do family, Abel, the school drug dealer, lives in a big, prisonlike tower block at the edge of town. Anna is afraid of him until she realizes that he is caring for his six-year-old sister on his own. Fascinated, Anna follows the two and listens as Abel tells little Micha the story of a tiny queen assailed by dark forces. It's a beautiful fairy tale that Anna comes to see has a basis in reality. Abel is in real danger of losing Micha to their abusive father and to his own inability to make ends meet. Anna gradually falls in love with Abel, but when his "enemies" begin to turn up dead, she fears she has fallen for a murderer. Has she?

My review:
First off, I want to give a shout-out to Miriam Debbage, the translator of the English edition of this book. Having studied ten languages, I understand the utter impossibility of translating someone else's novel into an entirely different (BUT THE SAME) set of words. Especially when the main characters are teenagers, who talk in very different ways from one country to the next. Debbage did the best translation I've read in a long, long time. It almost makes me want to learn German so I can appreciate the English version that much more. (But that would be crazy...right?)

As for THE STORYTELLER itself, I need some time to gather my thoughts. It's hard to talk about this book without spoiling the ending. (Definitely do not read the Kirkus review. It's one giant spoiler.) So much of the power comes from truths that creep up on you, or smack you over the head.

There are two things I loved most about this book. First, the voices. Anna's is the strongest. She is calm, steady, sheltered. Over the course of the novel she becomes less so, but those central qualities strengthen her and grow rather than transforming. She doesn't always do the right thing. In fact, at times she does the mindblowingly wrong thing, and you have to wonder how someone so smart can be such a fool--but that's why you love her.

Abel's voice is the opposite. He is raw anguish. Where Anna's words are careful and quiet, Abel's are big, beautiful, fast, and full of feeling. They come to life with color, scent, and sound.

Even Gitta's voice is distinct. We don't hear much from her, but the things we hear are so typically Gitta that we believe in her as much as we believe in Anna.

Secondly, I loved the imagery. Michaelis paints pictures with her words. The setting of this story is Germany in winter, and I was cold the whole time I was reading it. She is that convincing.

Plot-wise, I'm still not sure where I stand. I'll update if I ever come to a conclusion. I'm curious to see what other Americans think of this one.


Madigan McGillicuddy said...

I didn't realize this book was a translation! It's on my list of books to be read - I'll have to pay attention and see how I feel about it. Once in a great while, a translated book will flow really nicely, but often they feel quirky and "odd" (sometimes in a good way, sometimes not!)

jake the girl said...

I agree...I'm always happy when I find a translator I love. Unfortunately, I don't think Miriam Debbage has done any other YA novels.

Rainy Kaye said...

I hadn't heard of this book before. I'll have to read it. Thanks =)