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Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Book Thief


I am not sure exactly how to give a proper review for this book. It is, without a doubt, my favorite book of all time, and I doubt there is a single book that can or ever will replace it. So to say that my review will be biased is an understatement. That said, I hope you'll now forgive me for any bias you might find within the following review.

Here we find a book on a subject that can never be happy or good or nice. Liesel Meminger is a good girl with a sad fortune. Her mother is leaving her in the hands of strangers and her brother has died, leaving her with nothing left in the world but the book she stole from her brother's graveside. With the help of her foster father, she learns to read and write, all the while stealing books from wherever she can find them, including book-burning piles and the library of the mayor's wife.

Narrated by Death, who is at once an omnipresent narrator and a vulnerable character, we find ourselves in the middle of a subject that, on another occasion, might leaving you feeling very unhappy. However, there is something immensely beautiful and inviting about this novel, and it is for this reason that I love it. Instead of feeling depressed at the end of the novel, I found that I felt exactly the opposite: I wanted to pick it up and read it again and again, savoring every word and memorizing every line.

The writing itself is strange and sometimes feels stilted and awkward. It is the awkwardness that makes it feel real, and it's stilted character that makes it feel almost beautiful at times. This is the kind of book that I feel is practically written for book lovers. In The Book Thief, we find ourselves discovering the power of words, not just the power of books. We see the power of words when Liesel's foster mother calls her Saumensch again and again, or with Frau Diller and her insistence of each of her customers saying, "heil Hitler" as they enter her shop. Words have an important bit to play in this novel, and the way Markus Zusak uses them is extraordinary.

I don't know how much I can say without spoiling the novel for you, except to say that it's amazing, and I think it should be a must-read for everyone. The genre-type of "young adult" can often be so misleading to those of us who might not consider ourselves "young adults" or not even "old adults" or whatever. The "young adult" label often makes me shy away from books that I might very much enjoy, but I am afraid of, because they might be too young or too silly. This book is neither too young nor too silly. I read somewhere once that the main difference between "middle grade" and "young adult" is that the characters in "middle grade" books are 11-14 while the characters in "young adult" are 14-16 or somewhere close to those ranges. All I can say is if the age of our main character is the only thing keeping you from reading this book, you're most certainly missing out on an amazing piece of literature and a beautiful story.


I just want to share with you some passages from the book so you can appreciate the writing as I do:

p.4: "People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses, In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them."
p.129: "Certainly, something of great magnitude was coming toward 33 Himmel Street, to which Liesel was currently oblivious. To distort an overused human expression, the girl had more immediate fish to fry:
      She had stolen a book.
      Someone had seen her.
      The book thief reacted. Appropriately.

Every minute, every hour, there was worry, or more the point, paranoia. Criminal activity will do that to a person, especially a child. They envision a prolific assortment of caughtoutedness. Some examples: People jumping out of alleys. Schoolteachers suddenly being aware of every sin you've ever committed. Police showing up at the door each time a leaf turns or a distant gate slams shut."
p.391: "On Munich Street, they watched. 
      Others moved in around and in front of them. 
      They watched the Jews come down the road like a catalog of colors. That wasn't how the book thief described them, but I can tell you that that's exactly what they were, for many of them would die. They would each greet me like their last true friend, with bones like smoke and their souls trailing behind.
p.550: "A Last Note From Your Narrator:
I am haunted by humans."

Rating: 10 - Pitch-perfect
Recommend For: Everyone. It's the kind of book that not only challenges you and makes you think, but is also a literary achievement, as far as I'm concerned. I've never read another book written like it, and I doubt it can be rivaled in that respect. It's written off as "young adult", but as I said before, it's the kind of all-age-appropriate book that everyone can enjoy.


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