Daily Archives: September 30th, 2008

The Book Thief

So I finally read The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. A friend had warned me not to read it until I had a lot of time to devote to it, because I wouldn’t want to put it down, and she was right. I used to walk to school reading a book; this book made me want to do that again. When I finished it, I thought about lending it a friend; then I decided that I didn’t want to let it out of my sight quite so quickly. I might have to buy another copy, so that I have one to loan and one to keep at home.

It’s amazing. It’s brilliant. It left me in a daze for a while after (just ask my husband). It’s not at all my normal reading material – it’s set in Germany in WW2 – I tend not to read books like this because you just know there will be sad bits, and I don’t like sad bits. But this… well, I’m struggling to figure out what to write here, frankly. You should just go buy it. Let me try a little though:

The narrator is surprising, and it works. Really works. The perspective, while not entirely unique I think, had an edge to it that made the story seriously compelling. Not that the story wasn’t compelling by itself, of course: Liesel goes to live with foster parents – it’s late 1930s, Munich – and has to deal with a new situation and tragedy and, in the background, Hitler.

One of the really interesting aspects of the story is that Hitler and the Nazis are not in the foreground. For the reader he is (well, for this one, anyway), but not for Liesel. This makes perfect sense, since Liesel is in early adolescence and probably at that age, unless you had extremely political parents (or were Jewish/other persecuted group), you didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in wider Germany at the time. I know most of my students of that age don’t today. So there’s an awareness of Hitler, but it’s the personal ramifications that absorb more of Liesel’s attention.

Zusak’s descriptions are one of the powerful aspects of this story. His metaphors and juxtapositions are frequently startling, but for me it all worked together to create a vivid, compelling picture.

The idea that books and words can be so compelling in a life is a delight to read about, and brings joy to my heart as well as affirmation. Books are pivotal in everything that happens in Liesel’s story, and it all makes sense: there’s nothing forced about the connections. There was no moment where I felt dubious about a reaction, or a progression, or a result.

This is a glorious, wonderful book, and everyone should read it. It’s probably aimed YA, but my mother read it (she doesn’t tend to read YA like me), and she declared it one of the best books she’s ever read. Which I think is a pretty good recommendation.