Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke

Follow by Email


Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Chilling Narrative Poem

All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg
(Targeted for Young Adults but Really Fits an Adult Reader Better)

I love these kinds of books.  When you think 'narrative poetry', long boring classes of high school English probably pop into your mind.  Not so with "All the Broken Pieces".  This book is all the best of narrative poetry.
I must admit I was surprised by the description and cover of the book.  How in the world could the author fit baseball, Vietnam and adoption into a story that I would be interested in?  Quite beautifully is how.
Matt Pin is a young man who was thrust by his Vietnamese mother onto a rescue helicopter bound for the US.  Once here, Matt is adopted by a loving couple but struggles with his feelings of alienation, loss, horror and guilt.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg of this child's pain.  To pack so much hurt and pain inside a twelve-year body is almost too much to bear and your heart aches to pick Matt up and crush him to your chest.
The words of his story are powerful and chilling and the white spaces on the page speak as powerfully as the written; what is unsaid is as painful as those words the narrator speaks.  As Matt's piano teacher says, "Music is not simply playing notes, you have to play the silence too."
A beautiful, haunting read. 
However, it is being targeted as a Newberry winner and suggested as a read for young adults.  I doubt many will like this book and will not value it for the powerful message it contains.  Young adults, particulary boys, will not understand the horrors of war and certainly won't understand the historic implications.  While it should be an award winner, I think adults will enjoy the read and value the language more.


  1. How would this play out as a companion to, say, Hemingway's A FAREWELL TO ARMS? Fredrick Henry says, "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

    The title of this is reminiscent of the quote. Your thoughts?

  2. My goodness--you are going to put me to the test, aren't you? The quote is dead on the book--everyone in this book has been broken in some way by the war, not only the soldiers but also those they left behind. This book very clearly, just like "A Farewell to Arms" showcases the brutal humanity of this act we call war. I really think this book is much more powerful, but less graphic, than Hemingway's because it is told from a child's perspective. Those insights make the acts and words chilling to me. That a child can see the truth and then point out the simplicity of it is beautiful. This would make a terrific companion piece and stand-alone in the areas of Vietnam War and victim's rights. Thanks so much for commenting!