Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zuzak
Genre: Historical Fiction
“It’s just 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. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel 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 before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.”
I’m revisiting an old favourite in this review. I read The Book Thief for the first time about five or six years ago. I finished it on a flight back home from Barcelona where I was joined by a man who clearly didn’t enjoy flying and who sat there hyperventilating from the moment we took off. Next to him, I sat hunched over my tray table quietly sobbing my eyes out over this beautiful story. By the time we landed in London it was no wonder my boyfriend at the time looked so utterly bewildered and exasperated by the two emotional wrecks sat beside him.
Like The Night Circus (review here), I was drawn to this book by it’s engaging blurb. I’d never heard of it when my mother handed it to me and was completely unaware of the rising hype that surrounded it. But she had loved it, which is almost always an indication that I will love it too, and I as I turned it over and read those first few words on the back cover I knew I was sold on it too.
I’m not usually one for too much historical fiction, particularly if it focuses too heavily on historical accuracy at the detriment of character and plot. Don’t get me wrong, authenticity is important, but if I wanted to read facts I wouldn’t be reading fiction! The Book Thief however, proved a perfect balance for me. The broader context of the war and its effect on the German people provides an ideal backdrop for Zuzak’s heartfelt characters to play out their story. Whilst the issues and themes of this tale are nothing new, they are uniquely realised through Zuzak’s stylised structure and maintain their impact because of it.
As it has become well known for, The Book Thief is narrated by Death. This offers a poignant and unique perspective on the narrative and seems fitting for the period. Always close by and reluctantly intrusive, Death is an apt narrator who provides the necessary omnipresence and sometimes cold objectivity that cuts like a knife through the humanity of the characters. Zuzak’s characters are all, without fail, rich and interesting, filled with love, empathy and often, humour in the face of such adversity.
The colour and depth of Zuzak’s poetic descriptions present stark and emotive imagery that are unlike anything else I have ever read. In particular his descriptions of the sky are so vivid and lyrical I almost came to think of it as a character in it’s own right. Zuzak’s mastery of language is refreshing and, like the main character of Liesel, I found myself discovering the power and importance of words.
Undeniably sad, but with moments of real joy and hope, The Book Thief is a story with humanity at its heart. It is a story about the power of words as weapons of both love and destruction. Please, read it.
If you like this, you might like: Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli