Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Giver by Lois Lowry (audio book read by Ron Rifkin)

When author Lois Lowry regularly visited her parents in a nursing home, she noticed that her father was physically well but his memory was going, while her mother's memory was good but her body was failing.

According to a 2004 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this gave her the inspiration for her Newbery Award–winning novel, The Giver: "I began to think a lot about the concept of memory. When it was time for me to begin a new book, I began to create in my mind a place and a group of people who had somehow found the capacity to control memory."

Jonas lives in a utopian society where rules, discipline, politeness, similarity, and daily medication rule the day. The only time that differences are celebrated is during the Ceremony of 12: when twelve-year-old children are assigned their careers, based on meticulous observation of how they spend their volunteer hours.

While his peers are given jobs like working with the elderly, and Assistant Director of Recreation, Jonas is selected to be the community's next Receiver of Memory. Training him is the current Receiver, whose task is to pass on all the community's "memories" to Jonas — thus turning the Receiver into The Giver.

It is during this long series of scenes that Lowry really gets her point across, as Jonas learns more about his fellow residents that anyone but other Receivers has ever known, and he slowly discovers just to what lengths his community has gone to get the result it desired.

There is much more to the story, but describing it here would take away from the experience of reading this wonderful novel that has become a sort of Brave New World for modern readers. Lowry's ability to choose exactly the right word is not surprising for a story that considers a lack of "language precision" to be worthy of punishment. The way she reveals piece by piece the myriad things that this "perfect" community is lacking, making for a level of suspense that rivals an Alfred Hitchcock film, is nothing less than astonishing.

Actor Ron Rifkin approaches his work on the audio of The Giver with the proper amount of gentleness and distance. For a story that hinges on several revelations, Rifkin does not give anything away too early with his voice. At the same time, he captures the wonder of this unfamiliar world and yet portrays the familiarity of residents that live there every day. It's a perfect balance that enhanced understanding of the story.

(The audiobook label suggests a listener age of 10 and up, and this is a good general guide, but parents should use their discretion regarding their children's ability to handle a particularly intense moment in the second half of The Giver. It is a vital scene to the plot but may affect particularly sensitive readers more strongly than others.)


Ryan said...

Great book, where did you find the audiobook?

Craig Clarke said...

It's available from Amazon.com, but I got it through interlibrary loan.

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