M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Monday, October 19, 2009

"The Giver" by Lois Lowry


The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993, 179 pages)


I decided my blog and I needed a change of reading pace from the Japanese authors I have been reading for the last few weeks. One of the things I really enjoy is just savoring beautiful prose. Often a good bit of the meaning of a work is in the phrasing and the sentence structure. In a work in translation we can enjoy the story, the images and metaphors and such but we really do not get to appreciate the relationship between what a work may allegedly mean and how that meaning is expressed. I also wanted something that would be straightforward and easy to read as well as fun.

I looked over my book shelves for something that would fit the bill. I found Lois Lowry’s The Giver and decided I would read that.  The book has won all sorts of awards and is not real long.  It is marketed in the Young Adult category. I read a couple of months ago one of her other books Number the Stars.  I really liked that work, set in Denmark in WWII, so my decision was made. It turned out to be a very enjoyable fun to read and thought provoking book.

I like books that create alternate worlds I can enter into. (I almost said “withdraw into”). The Giver does this wonderfully.  From the very start of the book we see the world she has created in its own terms as perfectly logical and consistent. We understand how things work in the society created. We can even build our house in this world easily.

Everybody lives a completely controlled life in a completely controlled environment.  Total harmony and tranquility having seemingly been achieved.  This is done without any brute force.  It has just evolved over time and everyone seems quite happy.  The rules are designed to produce a state of mind in which one is happy with one's place in life.  There is a price to pay.  People no longer see colors, no one reads anything but job training manuals, there is no passion of any kind.   There are no birds.   Even the landscape has been flatted out to eliminate any hills or valleys.   People can apply to a committee for a spouse and will be assigned a suitable one.  After three years a couple may make application for a child.  Children are produced by women designated as “birthmothers”.  Training for children is completely prescribed.  Precision in language is stressed.  Children are constantly being observed to determine their future place in society. Everybody takes a morning pill once they get to about age 11 to suppress what are called “urges”.  It is a totally blanded out society.  There is no crime, no hunger, no war and all receive the medical care they need. Everything seems to work.

At age 12 there is a big ceremony in which a committee of elders will inform a person what their life work will be.  Some will be doctors, some engineers, some laborers, some administrators etc.  Jason, the central figure in the central figure in the novel gets a very special a unique future job.   One that is only designated when the current holder of the job is near the end of his expected life span.  It is the job of receiver of memories.  No one in the community has any knowledge of strong emotions, no knowledge of what the world was like in the past before the controls were put in place.  There is no snow or rain but the receiver of memory has these in his mind.  No one has any knowledge of pain or love but the receiver of memory. Jonas’s job is to have all the memories and experience that can produce wisdom.  He is given his memories by the current holder of the position,  The Giver.  The function of the job is to provide advice to the council of elders when they are faced with a new challenge.  The current receiver of memory has 1000s of books in his home. No one else is allowed to read what they want and in fact no one wants to anyway.  If a newborn is not up to standards after a year he is “released”.  Once a person is too old he is also released.  No one knows quite what that means but is treated as joyous occasion.

Of course once Jonas begins to get memories and feelings and can even see colors, things are not as simple to him as they once were. I do not want to give away any more plot detail.  I was very interested in finding out about his training for his new job.  I found the world created in this book fascinating and very believable. The Giver made me laugh, kept  me very interested in the fate of the characters (the depictions of life in the family units –what they are called in this society-were very well done) and made me think.  I am so glad I read this novel.  I think it could be read and enjoyed by any one 12 and up.   It has won a lot of awards.  It is an easy to read book.  It did not take a long time to read it but the world Lowry creates will always be there for me to wander into.  I endorse it without reservation and will pass it along to my daughters to read.
There is an excellent post on The Giver  on Suko's Notebook

Mel u




12 comments:

Diane said...

I really enjoyed this one when I read it a few years ago, Great review.

mel u said...

Diane-thanks-there are two companion books to The Giver-about other people-have you read either of them?-

J.T. Oldfield said...

Hey, I just wanted to say Welcome to the November Novella Challenge! I can't wait to see what you choose!

Suko said...

Mel, this is an insightful review of The Giver. This novel has a lot to say about the importance of freedom of choice. The lack of books in this world is perfect material for The Reading Life. Thanks for the mention!

mel u said...

J T-thanks for the welcome

Suko-thank you-I admit I really hoped we would learn more about the 1000s of books in The Givers living area and maybe see Jason begin to explore them-

JoAnn said...

Well that is certainly a change of pace! The Giver has been on my tbr list forever. Reading my first YA novel (Speak) has inspired me to add even more to my list. Another great review, Mel!

mel u said...

JoAnn-thanks-I needed a change of pace!-The Giver was a lot of fun-I hope you will post on "Speak"-I am half way through "Prophecy of the Sisters"-a 2009 young adult novel

JoAnn said...

Mel,
I didn't do a review of Speak, but did write about my book club's reaction to it here:
http://lakesidemusing.blogspot.com/2009/10/book-club-meeting-speak-by-laurie-halse.html

Will watch for your thought on Prophecy of Sisters.

Table Talk said...

It's a long time since I read Lowry. Thanks for reminding me about her. I must give myself a treat and re-read her soon.

Mark David said...

Very nice, I think I'll look for this book. Thanks Mel!

TopherGL said...

This is a wonderful novel. It's the first one I sat down and read without stopping as a young student - fifth or sixth grades. I've read it a few times since then and may just need to sit down with it again soon. Nice review. Glad you picked it up!

Ελλάδα said...

Lois Lowry is one of those unique authors who has won the John Newbery Medal for children's literature twice. Once for the first book in this trilogy and once for a book about the Holocaust called Number the Stars. (Just as an aside only one other author has ever done that Madeleine L'Engle who I would also recommend highly.) I would begin by recommending any of her books; they are all worth the time and the effort. This trilogy is set in a post apocalyptic world. The first two books each focus on different community's who have recovered from the devastation differently, both have strengths and both have weaknesses. And a young boy must heal them both and the land if either is to survive.