Classic Posts: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

(I’m in the process of changing blogs and there are a few posts I didn’t want to leave behind. This one was particularly well received on the old site)

After reading the Book Thief by Marcus Zusak I have reached a decision. I will not be reading any more books set in World War II for a long time. Light-hearted fun is usually not on offer in these books. Nor are care-free lives or rollicking action adventures. Instead, what you get is sadness, turmoil, war and Jews. There are always Jews. The Book Thief is, despite all these heavy topics, a good book. At times funny, often heart-breaking the story of little Liesel Meminger is one that will probably touch your heart and definitely stay with long after you’ve read it.

The story, narrated by Death (we’ll get back to that in a moment) follows the aforementioned little German girl as she is dropped off at her Foster parent’s home in Tiny Town, Germany. There she meets her new family, the loving ‘Papa’ and foul-mouthed yet caring ‘Mama’. Okay, you’ve probably heard that set-up before, but as you’re reading it doesn’t really bother you, because it’s well written. The father-daughter relationship is one of the sweetest you’ll read and there are numerous other characters of German Land are all endearing and/or humorous. And then comes 1939. There’s a lot of sadness which only escalates when Max the Jew shows up. Through it all Liesel discovers life through her friendship with ill-fated German boy, Rudy, the ever-loving Papa and the pages of her novels, many of which are stolen. I’ve always had a soft spot for novels where the hero/heroine discovers the joy and meaning of life through words (see Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, one of my favourite novels) and The Book-Thief does it competently, pulling the heart-strings at the right moments, gifting you with moments of humour when things get a little too dark and leading you to become emotionally invested in the characters.

There are little niggles. Using Death as a narrator may have sounded like a good idea in writing class, but there is little reason to have the Grim Reaper telling the story. His occasional insertions into the story line could easily enough be accommodated by an ordinary narration and the truth is, Death as a character is just not that compelling. He’s sad when little kids die, war is a busy time: these snippets of arcane law are the type of things you can expect from Mr Zusak’s Death. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the impeccable Mr Pratchett’s Death who actually has a personality and who I wouldn’t mind having a conversation over a cup of tea with and who SPEAKS LIKE THIS, which is infinitely cool. But it’s really only a small niggle. World War II attracts sad novels like a pretty girl attracts pimply teenage boys , but The Book Thief is one of the good ones. I just need to make sure I stay away from any novels set in WWII for a while.

(The Book Thief was one Exclusive Books’ Top Ten Most Popular Books of 2007)


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