I hope everyone has had a happy Easter Weekend! I spent my weekend relaxing, knitting, and reading. I also finished The Book Thief, which I have been reading for the past few weeks or so. I mentioned at the end of an earlier post that I would make everyone I know read this book, and I am making sure to keep up my end of the bargain…with myself…
Every now and again you come across a writer who, while you are reading their work, makes you put down the book and just process what you just saw. Sometimes it is because the author’s prose are just so well done and beautifully written. Sometimes it is because the imagery is really well done, and sometimes it is both. With The Book Thief it was both. I have mentioned a few other novelists that I put on my imaginary list of just really good writing. Barbara Kingsolver, and Erin Morgenstern are on the list, as well as Billy Collins, who I have been obsessed with since high school. And now I have added Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, to the list.
Markus Zusak looks at the world in a very unique way, and it comes across strongly in his writing. At first his style reminded me of Morgenstern’s because of his strong imagery in the book, but soon after that I saw that this was in fact his own unique style. The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl growing up in World War II, who is sent to live with a foster family at the age of 9. The Book Theif tells the story of her life, living in rural Germany, dealing with her younger brother’s death, learning to read from books that she stole, and her friendship with her adopted parents, Rudy Steiner, and the Jewish man that comes to live in her basement.
Zuzak does an excellent job of capturing both the innocence and maturity of being 9 years old, especially when growing up during World War II is taken into account. Yes, The Book Thief is considered to be a Young Adult novel, because of Liesel’s age throughout the story, but Zusak approaches his subject matter in a very mature, matter-of-fact fashion. He does not shy away from dark, or serious subject matter, but instead talks about it through beautiful imagery and storytelling.
One of the more amazing things about the book was the narrator. The narration is primarily focused on Liesel, but the narrator is his own separate character; Zusak makes Death the narrator of his book. At first, to me, I thought it was some Nazi soldier, but the narration quickly becomes too overarching for it to be one human being. Death, however, has his own opinions, his own characteristics, and even his own humor. The Book Thief is a dark book, but it is not without hope, or humor (at times). In an interview, Zusak talks about his decision to make Death the narrator of his book. He says,
Everyone says war and death are best friends. Death is every present during war…but this time, Death was to be exhausted from his eternal existence and his job. He was to be afraid of humans – because, after all, he was there to see the obliteration we’ve perpetrated on each other throughout the ages – and he would now be telling this story to prove to himself that humans are actually worth it.
I thought that was a beautiful way of putting it, and I definitely saw what Zusak was talking about throughout his story. I fell in love with all the characters very quickly, even Liesel’s stern stepmother, and it is clear that the narrator feels the same way.
Zusak did some interesting things in the telling of this story. Since Death is the narrator, and is somewhat outside of time, he often told us the fate of a character soon after we met him. This is a tricky tactic to use well while still keeping the suspense, and the flow of the story moving forward, but I did not feel that there was a lack of either of these things. It was interesting to see how Death wove himself in and out of the story.
I was surprised to see that this book came out in 2005, and I hadn’t heard about it until more recently – in the past year or so. But, I am glad that it has gotten as big as it has recently, because it is definitely worth it. I also saw that there is a movie of the book coming out in 2014 with Geoffrey Rush. There isn’t too much information out about it yet, but I could see how it would lend itself well to a movie with all the imagery and strong characters that it has. The Book Thief is one of those stories that I cannot fully explain without going on and on, so I just recommend that you read it. It’s good.