It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
The more I think about this book, the better it gets.
Before I truly begin, I should first mention that I usually steer clear of holocaust literature. I have only read one other, Angela’s Ashes, and that was because a friend recommended it to me. There are only a handful of subjects I find so disturbing that I rarely read books or watch movies about them. On the top of that list is the holocaust.
Also, it took me about 70 pages to really get into the story. I was originally distracted by the writing style. There are very short sections; I think in a couple of places, there are sections only one sentence long. Death’s comments are sometimes separated and in bold. For me, it felt like reading something written by someone who suffers from ADHD. At a point, the story sucked me in and I no longer noticed the style. My only criticism of that is it may lose readers who don’t stick it out long enough. That would be a shame.
As previously mentioned, I read Angela’s Ashes. In addition, I watched Schindler’s List. Both were very good, but I am not likely to revisit either. Where The Book Thief differs, is that it is so intellectual, in my humble opinion. I found myself questioning the symbolism of a scene where dominoes are set up and then toppled in a chain reaction. I’m convinced there is something more there.
In addition, the writing is absolutely beautiful:
Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear.
I took them all away, and if ever there was a time I needed distraction, this was it. In complete desolation, I looked at the world above. I watched the sky as it turned from silver to gray to the color of rain. Even the clouds were trying to get away.
Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue. p350
Take a second look at that last sentence. What does that mean? Blond hair, blue eyes? See what I’m talking about regarding the whole ‘something more there?’
It’s not really a spoiler to tell you that death is the narrator; you’ll find that out immediately. For a while, I wasn’t sure what I thought about that aspect of the book, but now I think it was brilliant. It opens up so many discussion points and of course that is a plus for me. I only wish there were pre-reading questions and post-reading questions, that way I could have paid closer attention to certain details as I was reading. For example- Is death truly objective? Does death have emotions? These types of questions aren’t spoilers, so there’s no reason not to bring them up from the very beginning.
Speaking of spoilers, death actually gives you spoilers. Death will tell you how something ends and given the topic, I’m sure it’s no surprise that some of the spoilers will be bad. Right now you may be thinking, “Well that stinks. Why bother reading the book if the narrator is going to tell me how it ends?” Trust me; it won’t make a difference. The first time it happened, I was taken aback, but it really does not ruin any of the suspense or mystery. For example, let’s say you find out that so and so dies. You even find out how so and so dies. But you don’t know the whole story, how so and so got to that point. That’s actually one of the underlying themes of The Book Thief- recognizing a long sequence of events that got someone from A to Z. If only I hadn’t… but alas, you did. Could it have been different? Or was it fate? Does it matter? So many great topics for discussion…
Moving along… Something I love, hate, love to hate about stories is unanswered questions, and you will definitely get some of those. I know it bothers some people, and I guess in some situations it is not a plus, but I think it most certainly is a plus in The Book Thief. Right off the top of my head I can think of two that will continue to nag at me and even though the author weighed in on one of them, he also said that in the end, it is up to the reader. Don’t you hate when authors do that? I mean love. Don’t you love when authors do that?
The last comment I would like to make on The Book Thief is that more than once, I kept hearing Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley. I haven’t read anything about Markus Zusak or this book, so I don’t know if that was intentional or if it’s just me. I wanted to mention it so if you decide to read it, you can keep that in the back of your head as you read and then maybe leave me a comment.
The only reason I gave The Book Thief only 4 stars is because I had a rocky start. I’m glad I eventually got into it and think you will too.
Reviewed by Christina
May 30, 2014