Genre: YA historical fiction
First Published: 2005
Author: Markus Zusak
Synopsis: The Book Thief follows the story of Liesel Memminger, a German girl living in Nazi Germany. After witnessing her brother’s death, Liesel’s life is changed when she steals her first book: The Gravedigger’s Handbook. With the help of her foster father, Liesel learns how to read and begins her career as a book thief. In a world where Death is busier than ever, Liesel learns the secret power of words.
I was first introduced to the story of Liesel a few years ago when the film came out and I fell in love with it. I knew then, that I was going to read the book. Of course, true to my unpredictable reading habits, it took me several years until I actually got to it. Finally, I read it this year and I loved it every bit as much as the first time and then some.
This is one of those books that takes time to read. At least for me. I couldn’t just read it in one day. It’s the kind of book that needs to be digested, that demands you think about it and you have to give it its due. And that’s exactly what I did.
If you go into this book expecting a grand plot, a grand story about extraordinary people, you will be disappointed. This is a story of ordinary people trying to live in a time of extraordinary evil. With Death as a narrator, you can imagine though, that it is far from being an ordinary book. It has this strange and beautiful way of looking at the human condition – through inhuman eyes. What it reveals is that we contain multitudes – as Walt Whitman said.
One of my favourite things about The Book Thief is that it is narrated by Death. He’s such an inhuman narrator – obviously. But I’m so used to reading books narrated from an implicitly human perspective. One that strives to live, one that sees death as the final destination and that wants to take the longest detour possible before arriving. But for Death, death is a chore. It’s a job. This was incredibly refreshing and entering a mindset that is so fundamentally different from my own has allowed me to look with fresh eyes at what it is to be human.
Another thing I absolutely loved was the style and format of the writing. For example, take the beginning.
First the colours.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.
~Here is a small fact~
You are going to die.
I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the As. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.
The reason I typed this up is because I have no idea how to explain it. It’s this strange and beautiful style that I’ve never seen before and I can’t even do it justice with the formatting options on WordPress. It draws you in and it entices you to read. It’s amazing.
I haven’t even started talking about the story itself. And to be honest, I find it very difficult to put my thoughts about it into words. One of the things I took away from it is the importance of small things. A book found in the snow, an accordion, a piece of bread and words. It all comes down to words. but just because it’s a book about small things, don’t think it’s a small book. No, it’s a book that uses small things to build a big picture.
Honestly, I am struggling to find things to tell you. Not because there isn’t anything to say, but because there is too much. I’d have to write my own book trying to describe The Book Thief to you. So I’m just going to share some of the quotes that stayed with me and then encourage you to go and read it for yourself.
“I just wish I was like Jesse Owens, Papa.”
This time, Mr Steiner placed his hand on Rudy’s head and explained, “I know son – but you’ve got beautiful blond hair and big, safe blue eyes. You should be happy with that, is that clear?”
But nothing was clear.
It would inspire Hans Huberman to come up with a plan to help the jewish fist-fighter. And it would show me once again that one opportunity leads directly to another, jut as risk leads to more risk, life to more life, and death to more death.
Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness.
I guess humans like to see a little destruction. Sandcastles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.
She was a girl.
In Nazi Germany.
How fitting that she was discovering the power of words.
And last, but not least.
I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain to her that I’m constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words so damning and brilliant.
There are many, many others, but I’m hoping that this will suffice to convince you to go read it.