After a lot of false starts, I finally finished The Book Thief!
It is 1939 Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
I honestly don’t know why it took so long for me to get started with this novel. I think it may have been an overload of Nazi-Jew themed books as I had previously read The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman and Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay (both of which I absolutely adore!!). As well, I had just finished reading Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago in which the narrator is also death. So between the three, I may have been a bit burnt out.
But that doesn’t explain the lack of interest I had in my second and third attempts. Finally, on the fourth attempt I managed to get past chapter 2. And all of a sudden, the book went from “meh” to “Where did that come from?!!” This book is brilliant. The combination of death being the philosophical, guilt ridden narrator who is watching the life of Liesel pass by in colours and words, and the actual story of Liesel is just too good to miss. I’m awestruck at how much this book stayed with me after I finished reading it.
I love too, how Zusak defined the narration of Death. This wasn’t a chapter switch type of narration where one narrator has the first chapter to talk, and the second narrator has the next chapter. No, no. Zusak decided to get creative and spunky. Death’s narration isn’t separate from Liesel’s life… it is a part of it. Woven into the chapters of her story with bold ink and little asterisks, Death jumps in whenever Death feels that an action of Liesel’s needs deeper explanation (or parts of her story), when Death is witnessing a part of Liesel’s life… or when Death feels that an action, a death, was undeserved (which saddens him). And that’s about all the description I have for this bit of brilliance on Zusak’s part. While some may find that this is “jarring”, don’t let it stop you from reading. Eventually you will be converted.
Will I recommend this book? Definitely.
Feathers turned to twigs again. Smooth face turned to rough. THe proof she needed was there. She was alive.
The first few days, she sat and talked to him. On her birthday, she told him there was an enormous cake waiting in the kitchen, if only he would wake up.
There was no waking.
There was no cake.
A Late-Night Excerpt
I realized much later that I actually visited 33 Himmel Street in that period of time. It must have been on the few moments when the girl was not there with him, for all I saw was a man in bed. I knelt. I readied myself to insert my hands through the blankets. Then there was a resurgence – an immense struggle against my weight. I withdrew, and with so much work ahead of me, it was nice to be fought off in that dark little room. I even managed a short, closed-eyed pause of serenity before I made my way out.
Markus Zusak talks about The Book Thief