Monday, January 19, 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 somber, 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.


Tanja said...

I will second your opinion. One of my all time favorite books. It just sneaked into my skin and decided to reside there and I don't think I will ever escape it. I read that book about 4 months ago and I still get emotional when I think of it. I also have found myself looking for colors of the day and what they might mean in the world.

Lula O said...

It is one you think about much afterward, I think because its words ring true. These kinds of stories really happened.