Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The Book Thief: Review
I don't remember the last time a book made me cry. That is, before tonight. I just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and by the time I closed the book, I was weeping. Is this book perfect, no. All-time finest written, no. But, Zusak, has certainly done his job as a writer. He has reeled me in, sometimes faulty prose and all, and made me care about his characters. And I couldn't bear it when my nearly all of favorites were gone at the end. Trust me, I'm not spoiling anything here. After all, the narrator of the book is Death and the book is about Germany during World War II--am I really letting any cats of the bag when I tell you that a lot of people die? I didn't think so.
This book has made so many lists and been so widely reviewed that I doubt that I'm going to say much that's original and a synopsis probably isn't necessary. But for those of you who, like me, don't get out in the world of modern books very often--here's a run-down:
This book is narrated by Death...who, of course, is always busy--but never more so than during the reign of Nazi Germany. The book begins with Liesel Meminger, her brother and her mother on train headed to Molching, outside of Munich, to place the children in a foster home. Death's first job in the book is to claim Liesel brother. A death that will haunt Liesel through nightmares for years. The story follows Liesel as she settles into a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. And then although he is no great reader himself, her foster father takes pains to teach Liesel to read. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Liesel's friendships are particularly well-done--and most particularly the prickly friendship between her and Rudy. Depicting a friendship between a girl and a boy at that age is not an easy task.
The story of Liesel and Death's parallel narrative relating the horrors of war surrounding Molching give a very vivid picture of what life may have been like in the small towns of Germany. And the heart-breaking ending is so very well done, it makes up for some of the stilted writing and poor imagery found earlier in the book. (I just can't imagine a chocolate sky--for one thing.) Overall this is one of the finest young adult books I've ever read and certainly one that has most touched me. I could not put it down this evening (and only put it down throughout the day because I had to work). My biggest quibble is about the little asides that appear in bold. I think that some of that could have been left out altogether and the rest would have worked better if it had been incorporated into the story. Those asides put some major bumps in the reading road. Without those, this would have been a five star book. Four and a half stars.