“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

We underestimate them, we overestimate them; but we hardly ever realize the true power of words.

The Book Thief, set at the dawn of World War II and onwards, makes a perfect setting for understanding the weight that words carry. That era was created and maintained by words, it was also defined by them. The book also finds a suitable, albeit unusual narrator — Death. Death’s narration is ironically naive. However, it is due to this naiveté that the novel is able to handle quite morose subject matter, juxtaposed against the silliness of human life.

I really enjoyed The Book Thief — there is no better way of saying that. Simplicity must seek to resolve my complex emotions. I couldn’t disengage myself from it as I read into the wee hours of the night. It made my eyes swell and brought on tears — then I knew I loved it. I miss crying because of a book, it hasn’t happened in a while, and I am glad The Book Thief brought it back. The characters were lovely, really, by the end of the novel I learned to like them all. Gentle Liesel with her books, kind Hans with his accordion and promises, soft-hearted Rosa with a face of cardboard and a resolve of steel, chilly Ilsa Hermann with her library and the open window, Herr Steiner who loved his son too much, Frau Holtzapfel who needed to listen to words… Yet, my favourites were Rudy and Max. Their stories made me cry hardest.

I loved the role of books in this book. From the symbolism of Liesel’s first stolen book to the meaning of Max’s Mein Kampf and later its transformation, books and stories and words were centric characters in this novel. The scene in the Hermann library when Liesel strokes the spines of books as she walks past sums up nicely both her character and the reason I could relate to her so well. Any reader would.

As for the composition of the book, at first I was hesitant to read and accept the fragmented bold text. It disrupted the flow of my reading and the smooth journey of my eyes on the page. Later on, I got over that and realized its significance and utility. That bold text could provide a neat summary without the necessity to elaborate, it could serve as a crutch for the story, or it could deliver some of the most painful lines in the book.

The second thing to discuss requires me to leak some SPOILERS. Zusak’s foreshadowing skills were good, but what kept me most invested in the story (and traumatized me earlier than necessary) was his decision to disclose deaths way before they happened. I don’t know what spurred that decision but, despite my torn heart, I found this technique effective. Of course I was devastated to read that Liesel only kissed Rudy’s dusty bomb-hit lips when it was too late, but knowing the end before it came made me appreciate the lead up all the more.

I don’t quite know how to comment on all of my thoughts and feelings for this book. I wish I could project them as they occurred to me because that would be most powerful. How ironic that I cannot find the right words… This book fit so much in so little, and it offered more in the mind than on the page, but the page was also wonderful and … ugh. I cannot.

I have hated the words and I have loved them, but I hope I have made them right.
~The Book Thief

The Book Thief shows that German and Nazi are not synonymous and cannot be used interchangeably. Despite all the beastliness and  horrors of humanity, humans can be and are beautiful and kind and different yet so same. Sometimes you meet Death with a fist, and sometimes you sit up to welcome it with half a smile. And sometimes books save lives.

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4 responses to ““The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

  1. Do you think this is something I should read? It kind of reminds me of Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind, from your description—-gothic. In Shadow, books are also characters, but they didn’t save lives so that interests me: )

    • In The Book Thief books remain inanimate objects 🙂 but they do affect the lives of the main characters in various ways. It’s an easy and quick read despite being 500-ish pages, so I’d say if you are interested at all — give it a try. This novel has been praised in the literary community, so even if you end up not enjoying it, at least you’ll have some context / your own informed opinion. 🙂
      And I’d like to read Shadow of the Wind!

  2. Great review! This is on our “To Read” list on my blog (http://untamedshrews.wordpress.com/) and I have to admit that I’ve been hesitant about reading this one, but I don’t really know why. I also read Shadow of the Wind (referenced above) and I love the idea of a book about books, so maybe The Book Thief will be moved higher on the list.

    • What a lovely blog name 🙂
      I’m also very intrigued when it comes to books about books (part of the reason why I read this one). As mentioned above, The Book Thief is a rather easy read, whenever you get to it. I’d like to say it won’t disappoint!

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