Book Talk: THE BOOK THIEF, by Markus Zusak

the book thiefThe Book Thief
Markus Zusak (Facebook) (Twitter) (Tumblr)
Alfred A. Knopf (2007), Paperback (ISBN 0375842209 / 9780375842207)
Fiction (YA), 576 pages
Source: Purchased

I have no good excuses for why it took so long for me to read The Book Thief. I bought it more than four years ago–it was logged into my LibraryThing catalog on January 1, 2010–and began reading it just over four months ago, on January 1 of this year. It was the first book I started reading in 2014; I think it was the 17th that I finished. That is absolutely no reflection on the quality of the book, and almost completely a reflection of a reading life not exclusively subject to an individual reader’s whims.

However, now that I have read The Book Thief, I will be putting it on one of my “keeper” shelves. I’ll probably read it again. And I’ll be telling anyone who hasn’t read it yet that they must fix that.

There are so many reasons one might hesitate to read The Book Thief, and I think they can easily be summed up in a sentence:

This is a novel about a girl in Nazi Germany during World War II, narrated by Death.

That narrator gave me more pause than the Nazi Germany or World War II elements, to be honest. For one thing, it suggested that The Book Thief might have paranormal elements, which rarely appeal to me; that was a misconception, fortunately. It also suggested that this novel might be a sad, weepy downer–which actually fits with the Nazi Germany/WWII elements. And there are parts of The Book Thief that are hard to get through without getting a bit choked-up and misty-eyed. They are honestly earned. There are also parts that are amusing, heartwarming, and provoking.

The story told by Death is one of the most life-affirming novels I’ve ever read, and is ultimately a story of love–love of friends, of family, of home, and of books.

The Book Thief is stylistically ambitious, and Markus Zusak’s writing is gorgeous–at times, breathtaking. When I was actively reading this novel over the past four months–and I’ve acknowledged there were weeks at a time when I wasn’t–I’d gobble up large sections at a sitting because I loved the writing so much. The characters and their relationships are vividly and memorably rendered, and tension and suspense feel organic to the story; Death is the narrator for a reason.

This novel is classified as Young Adult because its central character is a young girl, but The Book Thief is one of the best examples of “YA crossover” fiction you’re likely to find. The subject matter and the way it’s portrayed are mature, and I think the readers will need a fair degree of maturity themselves to appreciate this novel fully.

I have no good excuses for taking so long to read The Book Thief, but I’m so glad I no longer have to worry about making excuses for not having read it at all. It’s a remarkable work, and a must-read.

Rating: 4.5 of 5

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Book description, from the publisher’s website

Markus Zusak’s unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. 

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. 

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

Opening Lines:

“First the colors. 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 A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

“REACTION TO THE AFOREMENTIONED fact:

“Does this worry you? I urge you–don’t be afraid. I’m nothing if not fair.

“–Of course, an introduction. A beginning. Where are my manners?

“I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.”

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