Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak
I rarely give a book my highest rating. A place on my 5 star shelf. But the likes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights may now have a new companion in The Book Thief. This ingenious, groundbreaking young adult fiction almost fits in a class of books unto itself. A book that breaks you apart with each page until you somehow end up whole on the last one. A book that brought tears to my eyes more than once, but never felt sorry for itself. A book that took forever to read.

Our surprisingly ungloomy narrator is serious, tired and in need of a vacation. His story begins in Germany, 1939, during World War II, where Death's been very, very busy. He starts immediately with a description of what to expect, as Death assumes that like himself, no one cares much for surprises.
- A girl
- Some words
- An accordionist
- Some fanatical Germans
- A Jewish fist fighter
- And quite a lot of thievery

Death never minces words. He gets right to the point. He needs distractions to help him cope with his job. One is color in its multitude of shades, like I've never heard described before. They are his vacation "in increments".

"Yes, it was white. It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow. Like it has pulled it on, the way you pull on a sweater. Next to the train line, footprints were sunken to their shins. Trees wore blankets of ice. As you might expect, someone had died."

Another distraction is a young 11 year old girl named Liesel. He shares her story with us with very interesting commentary intermingled in between to remind us he's still there, in the background. Sometimes warning us of impending doom, sometimes making simple observations.

"Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew."

"There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:
1. He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else.
2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache.
3. He would one day rule the world. ...Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words."

"He was more a black suit than a man. His face was a mustache."

The Book Thief. A rich, complicated novel about the terrible effects of war on ordinary, decent people. People I knew very well by the last page. It was victorious and tragic at the same time. Few authors can pull that off. Zusak does. Very well indeed. It struck a chord with me, and so to that I must add, the Bronte's need to make some room. 5 stars.


Amanda said...

I can't wait to read this book. I've heard so many good things about it.

L said...

It's a hard one to read, and not just for it's emotional content, but Zusak's writing style took me some pages before I got used to being briefly taken out of the story every time the narrator cut in. Then, it somehow worked, the constant interruptions from Death. I'd come to expect them.

And how Zusak describes the setting is quite vivid and original.
"The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring."
I felt like I was in Germany in the 1940's. The characters, so rich and inviting. Really it was everything. Just a really good book. Definitely worth the effort.

The Great Catsby said...

I actually have heard great things about this and your review might actually be the same that pushes it over the top, and onto my book list!!

Amanda said...

Lula - likely because of your review, I dreamt about this book all night long last night. I dreamt I was reading it, word by word, and saw the parts where Death started talking and which parts felt like third person (I'm not saying that's what the book's actually like, that's just what it was in my dream), and I watched the events unfold like in a movie while I read. Of course, the plot had nothing to do with WWII, instead I think there was a woman (Death) kidnapping people and turning them into birds, but hey. Anyway, it's really weird to dream about a book you've never read all night long. Every time I woke up, I thought - why am I dreaming about this book? - but then I would fall asleep again and dream more. Yeah. :)

L said...

If you're thinking and dreaming about it now, wait until you actually read it. It sticks to you, like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth.
(I've always wanted to say that..;o))

Julie said...

Have you read The Art Thief by Noah Charney? I wonder how these two books would compare. I haven't read either book. I'm simply curious.

L said...

I haven't read The Art Thief, but I looked it up on Amazon and it doesn't look similar at all, from what I can tell. More like a Dan Brown sort of mystery. It does look like an interesting read though.
I wouldn't classify The Book Thief as a mystery. Perhaps drama. Is that even a category? Historical fiction. Definitely that.