The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published March 14th, 2006 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
I have absolutely no clue what to write about this book. I cannot, in any way, do justice to this book by just writing down some words for you to read. But I guess that’s kind of my job as a book reviewer, right? To write a review that tells you just how I felt about this book? Yeah. And now I’m right back where I started, still with nothing to say. So I’m going to change things up a little. I’m going to write this review with the help of quotes from this book. A lot of them, probably. But don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers. Here we go.
This is the kind of book that reminds me why I love to read.
“It’s a small story really, about, among other things:
* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery”
That it is. This book starts out on a train making its way through a desolate stretch of land somewhere in Germany. Liesel is the main character, a young girl being taken to live with new parents, as her mother can no longer take care of her. Liesel’s first encounter with Death happens to be on that train. And Death, in fact, is the narrator of this story.
We all imagine Death to be a dark, gloomy figure, probably holding a scythe and wearing a cloak. As it turns out, that’s not Death at all.
“A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH
I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.
And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.”
The story, although told by Death, mainly focuses on our main character Liesel as she grows up in her new life on Himmel Street. Her Mama, though constantly cursing, is a loveable character. She’s always calling Liesel a bad name, but she has a heart of gold. And Liesel’s new friend Rudy is the perfect companion for stealing fruit from farmers and playing soccer on the street. I really loved Rudy; he was a character so endearing that there’s no way not to love him. But it’s Liesel’s Papa that I came to love most. He’s a painter by day, an accordionist by night.
“Many times, she wanted to ask her papa if he might teach her to play, but somehow, something always stopped her. Perhaps an unknown intuition told her that she would never be able to play it like Hans Hubermann. Surely, not even the world’s greatest accordionists could compare. They could never be equal to the casual concentration on Papa’s face. Or there wouldn’t be a paintwork-traded cigarette slouched on the player’s lips. And they could never make a small mistake with a three-note laugh of hindsight. Not the way he could.”
Most importantly though, Papa is the one who teaches Liesel to read, fueling her career as the Book Thief. Liesel doesn’t have the luxury of going out and buying book after book, but she’s determined to keep reading. Thus, the book thievery begins. It’s almost as if all the other aspects of the story, NAZIs and street soccer and bomb shelters, are interwoven and tied together, and in the middle of the whole thing is just one thread – books. In so many ways, the novel could simply be about Liesel becoming the Book Thief. But it’s not – it’s much, much more than that. This story breaks through the limits of paper and ink and becomes something greater, something alive and breathing and wonderful.
A story told by Death is much different than one told by a human. Death observes humans, offers us an outside view, and provides us with a perspective that no human can offer. And Death being Death, he (or she) has a lot of opportunities to witness the lives of humans.
“A human doesn’t have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.”
The Book Thief is not made to be horribly dark and gloomy. It’s simply a story of life and death, of suffering and happiness. Everything about this book, from the quiet thoughts of Liesel to the elegant and tragic writing, is what makes it so stunning. The writing is so poetic and graceful but at the same time so sharp and blunt. Zusak uses words like tools, cutting and chiseling and crafting the story into something so completely mind blowing that after reading it you just need to step back, to breathe.
It’s not just about the characters or the writing or the plot. It’s about the emotion pulsing through this book, the way it takes hold of you and grips your heart so tightly. It’s about everything in this story coming together to create a masterpiece, a timeless classic that I hope will never stop being read.
So that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Just remember that this book is a thousand times better than I could describe it, and that to truly understand this heart-wrenching, unforgettable story, you need to read it for yourself. I’ve no more words left for you, just one last quote from the Book Thief herself:
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”