Top Five Saturday is a meme hosted by Devouring Books to discover and share books that all have a common theme. Previously, the focus has included witches, werewolves, thrillers, faeries, fairy tale re-tellings, high fantasy and many more.
This week’s topic from Devouring Books is books with a survival theme – books where the primary goal of the protagonists is not to change the world or defeat the antagonist but simply to survive.
The Newsflesh Trilogy, Mira Grant
So, let’s start with a series of books I am unaccountably fond of which are generally outside my usual reading zone: zombies rarely makes it into my tags on the blog! But when I see the word “survival theme”, zombie apocalypses are an obvious starting point. And this series – or at least the first book, Feed – I picked up the hospital shop whilst waiting for my daughter to be born. It was a lengthy wait! Waters had to be broken manually; contractions were waited for and waited for and waited for, and never showed however much pitocin was administered; caesarians were planned for and scheduled, then cancelled…
So I whiled away the time with the book Feed. Zombies had risen. Organised media had fallen and blogs had become the primary news source for the world and one such blog is selected to follow an election campaign. Decent characters, fun premise – and as often happens with zombie narratives, the zombies themselves are a little secondary: other humans are the primary villains!
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
The second thread of survival stories that sprang to mind were maritime survivals. I was tempted to include Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch, perhaps even Melville’s Moby Dick but I did adore The Life of Pi. It has such beautiful language and lyrical moments, and occasional nightmarish horror. And of course, the tiger, Richard Parker. I feel far more equipped to survive the open seas with a tiger now than I did before reading this!
The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak
And war is an obvious third strand to survival, especially those set in World War Two and recently Auschwitz has become a familiar sight on the tabletops of Waterstones: The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Librarian of Auschwitz, The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz, The Auschwitz Violin.
The Book Thief, allegedly Young Adult, is overshadowed by Dachau, but focuses on life in the city of Molching near Munich. It is famously narrated by the character Death with some beautiful synaesthetic descriptions of colour and emotion. It is powerful and lyrical and haunting story of Liesel Meminger, the eponymous book thief, rescuing and saving and being saved by books and language and words in the face of Nazi brutality.
Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys
Still within World War Two, but away from the familiar horrors of the concentration camps, Sepetys’ harrowing novel follows a family from Lithuania transported to the work camps of Siberia by the Stalinist regime. The protagonist, Lina Vilkaitė , has such a tenacious and fierce will to live and survive despite the horrors and deprivations forced upon her.
Many of Sepetys’ novels focus on that fierce, possibly dangerous, will to live that teenagers and young people can exhibit and I could have picked Salt to the Sea or her current The Fountains of Silence but, for me, Between Shades of Gray is exceptional, all the more so because it was her debut novel.
Daisy Jones and the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid
And finally, a book about surviving just life and the vicissitudes that it can throw at us – albeit the slightly heightened life of the 1970s rock scene in Los Angeles! In the midst of reading it and it is already sparkling with characters and life and energy….
Some Honourable Mentions
I usually forget to do this, and am perhaps a little cautious about randomly tagging people but here goes!