One was a book thief
The other stole the sky
This book, man.
This book was incredible. I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did (I mean, it’s not as if it’s critically acclaimed or anything. It certainly didn’t win any awards..).
But, yes, I adored this book.
As the blurb would suggest, The Book Thief is about a young German girl called Liesel who goes to live with a foster family right before the second world war. Liesel can’t read, but learns to over the course of the novel, and steals books on occasion so that she can practice. The importance of words is a major theme in this story.
But it’s not just a story about Liesel (who, to be honest, wasn’t especially interesting as a main character). It’s a book about the people who live on Himmel street on the brink of a life-changing war. It’s about Liesel’s relationship with her new family, her sort-of-more-than-friendship with her best friend, her secret Jewish friend, her school friends, loved and hated neighbours alike, but most of all, everyone’s relationship with the Führer.
Oh and it’s narrated by Death.
Which is really what drew me to the book in the first place. Such an interesting premise, such a luring device, especially in the blurb:
“DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES.”
In an interesting twist of fate, the concept that drew me turned out to be the one problem I had with this book.
It’s not the character of Death I have a problem with, it’s the fact that Death reveals what happens ahead of time. Constantly.
“Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story.”
At first I tried to get on board with the choice; I did even find myself growing fonder of a character once I learned of his tragic fate that was yet to come, so I imagined that was why Zusak wanted to do it. But when Death just told us the bloody ending 50 pages before the end of the book, I just wasn’t having it. And no, before you ask, it was not foreshadowing, Death just blatantly gives the entire thing away.
It ruined it for me. I knew the ending before I wanted to. It robbed me of the OMG moment, if you’ll pardon the colloquialism. And when the inevitable happened, it happened so quickly, so anti-climatically, and suddenly the book ended. Far too abruptly for my satisfaction.
Dick move, Zusak.
Apart from that (massive) problem, everything else was great. I fell in love with the characters, I was completely enveloped in the story and it completely destroyed me at times. I can’t count how many times my heart broke over the course of this novel. Such a great story, such lovable characters, and anyone who’s read it will tell you how beautifully it is written.
I’m not really one for purple prose, but this was good shit, my friend. It honestly felt experimental, and at times I found it a bit lacking. But as confusing as it could sometimes get, I really enjoyed it. I love the way Zusak could describe things in three words. There was a lot of “wardrobe-shaped woman”, “lemon-haired boy” and “breakfast-coloured sun”, which are the kind of descriptions which often make you stop and think before completely being able to imagine the scene Zusak sets.
“He was more a black suit than a man. His face was a mustache.”
I love it. I love the often simple descriptions, which really push the boundaries of the acceptable format of metaphors. I’ve never enjoyed books that constantly describe the damn sky, but this one worked for me. It well and truly did it for me.
I’m tempted to get into the nitty gritty details of what made this book so great for me, but I’m pretty sure that those who read it will pick out the exact same bits. I don’t want to spoil it for you. I just want to tell you to read it. So I will.
Read it. I will buy it for you for Christmas if you promise to.
This review also appears on Goodreads.