Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
On the Shelves: Fiction/ Historical Fiction
“HERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH
It’s a small story,about:
-some fanatical Germans
-a Jewish fist fighter
-and quite a lot of thievery.
ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW – DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES” (Goodreads 2013)
Two years. It’s been two years since I originally read this book. That is how long it has taken me to get the nerve up to sit down, think as best I could about this book, and give a proper review on it. I couldn’t just give it a one liner of “it was great/bad/amazing/heartbreaking”. I couldn’t. It deserves so much more than that. No, this review was always going to be a sit-down-at-the-computer-and-stare-at-your-favourite-passages review.
From the time this book first got published in 2007, I’d seen it sitting on the shelves in shops. I couldn’t stop staring at the cover. Which for me, tends to mean the book is screaming at me to pick it up. But every time I read the back, I hesitated. I thought “This will be too sad for me to like it”.
I was right.
I was wrong.
I was so, so wrong.
This review will have no spoilers, I promise.
The story of The Book Thief, follows a young girl named Liesel Meminger, and her new life with her foster family following being re-homed during the second world war, in Germany. The story itself is narrated by Death. Zusak created a masterpiece with this book. On every page, Death warns you, in an almost human, sympathetic tone “it’s going to get messy, it might be best if you go read something else”, “It’s going to get sadder from here, reader.” And yet, you are compelled to continue reading about Liesel and how she became known as the Book Thief; about Hans and his accordion, about Mama with her tough love, about Rudy Steiner. And of course, you become attached to Death as a character almost at once. Zusak has almost followed Pratchett, in his way of writing Death, except for one stark difference.
In Pratchett’s Discworld series, Death so badly wants to be Human, to understand what it is to be human and feeling human and to feel love and compassion and sympathy because he cannot comprehend it fully. Zusak’s Death wishes he’d never comprehended humanity at all. He is already sympathetic…and he mourns humanity from the get go. Death knows no good will come from any of this, that there will always be another battle, another fight, more families to tear apart, more scenes of tragedy and grief and resentment and pure hatred. More than anything throughout this book, my heart ached with pity on behalf of Death. Pity for those he witnessed and ultimately freed from their pain, and pity for Death himself. For he has no way of coping or knowing that ‘the end comes with death’…he is “the end”.
“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 that I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die ”- Death.
Death tries to find distractions from his work in the little things of humanity, like the colours of the world, and of course- Liesel, who in times of great distress and need and desperation, found comfort in books. Lisel who stole the books. Lisel who saved the books. Death comes across Liesel three times.
This book is important to me. This, for me, was the book which proved I had officially re-discovered my love of reading. This is the book which defied genre, and explanation and tick boxes. If- god forbid, I could only ever read one book for the rest of my life- It would be The Book Thief.
The world has never been a pretty place. It is terrifying, and gruelling, and cruel and relentless. Men are reckless and selfish, and humanity seems like a fading luxury half of the time. But even in tough times, there will always be one person who loves, who fights, who believes, who is stronger than what is thrown at them daily. The Book Thief broke my heart. I literally feel that this book actively broke a piece of my soul and ran away with it, leaving a handprint on my soul instead. And I adore it because of it. I see this book in bookstores and part of me just wants to pick it up and hug it. I cannot recommend this book enough to everybody and…just….make sure you have tissues handy, because I have never before stayed up until 3am in the morning with a river running down my face.
“I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there”- Death