The Book Thief (Nov. 2014)

The_Book_Thief_by_Markus_Zusak_book_coverTHE BOOK THIEF has been on my shelf practically since it came out, but I kept putting it off and reading other things instead. Finally, last month, I decided to read it.

My conclusion?

*This is a beautiful book*

A beautifully rendered story, interesting style, and unique voice. I love the unbridled audacity of writers who are brave enough to use odd and innovative styles to tell a story.

Some view these new styles as too gimmicky, all show and no substance, that it’s the style rather than the story which is garnering attention.

My litmus test is always whether the underlying story can stand on its own without the odd stylistic choice.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS can’t

GONE GIRL can’t

THE BOOK THIEF most certainly can

It’s the story of Liesel Meminger (a character destined to go down as a classic, on par with Mary Lennox, the Darlings, and the Pevensies) in Nazi-era Munich. Liesel’s mother is giving her up, along with her younger brother who doesn’t survive the journey, to the Hubermanns, a husband and wife living on Himmel Street. He is a painter, she washes clothes and swears at people. Liesel bonds with her new papa immediately. Her new mother, though rough, treats her well and genuinely cares for her.

We meet Rudy, Liesel’s spunky best friend, a runner with flaxen hair who gets in trouble with her, protects her and loves her.

We meet the Nazi youths and witness the casual xenophobia and cruelty of the era from the eyes of a little girl.

We witness a gut-wrenching scene of book burning, particularly for our little book thief.

*NOTICE HOW I HAVEN’T MENTIONED THE USP YET?*

It’s because the story is strong enough on its own and doesn’t need the unique selling point of Death as Narrator.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the story is narrated by Death. He’s an apt choice given the horrific war in which the story is set. Death is by turns perplexed, sympathetic, apathetic, and complimentary of humans. He claims to be haunted by humans at times and seems to have been inordinately interested in Liesel and her family.

He is a fully omniscient narrator, knowing the past, present , and future of the characters. He can also see into them, their thoughts, motives, and inner lives, and he uses this knowledge to tease and hook the reader, telling us key future events throughout the story.

<<So, let’s break it down…>>

THE GOOD:

There’s a lot to praise here, but to name a few:

  • Liesel is a great protagonist. Believable and real. She has a streak of meanness in her that makes her very real.
  • The characters are deftly drawn across the board. Papa is a great, warm, eminently likable person. Rudy is awesome and makes a great sidekick for Liesel. Even the mayors wife and Frau Heil Hitler are well-rounded.
  • There is some beautiful prose here. One passage that caught my eye:

Trust me though, the words were on the way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.

  • There are some wondrously imaginative and moving passages. Not to spoil anything, but I especially loved the bit where Max ‘transforms’ the book for Liesel. Stunning.

THE BAD:

Not much to bemoan, but I didn’t care for:

  • The constant translating from German to English. I felt like most of it could be understood from context.
  • The way it was formatted: constant paragraph breaks, centered and bold test was repetitive and began to annoy me after a while.

But other than those two minor gripes, which have nothing to do with content, I think this is a great book and one I will be rereading over the years.

What did you think of THE BOOK THIEF?