Monday, January 9, 2012

"The Book Thief," by Markus Zuzak

Liesel steals her first book before she can even read, from the snowy graveyard where they bury her little brother.  Later, when her foster father teaches her lovingly to read, she realizes it's a gravedigger's handbook.  She loves it anyway.  And thus begins the career of the book thief.

It's a story of poverty, fear, love, Nazis, and strange friendships. 

The style is unique, featuring Death as a narrator who makes strange asides like ***A REASSURING ANNOUNCEMENT***  At first, the odd, fragmented style bothered me, and felt a little gimmicky, but I grew to like—even admire—it.  Such an unusual voice.

The language sometimes struck me as poetically pretentious.  I kept having to stop and reread a phrase, only to think, "that verb makes no sense with that noun," or "my critique group would trash this phrase."  Then I'd think, "I must just be stupid.  Or the author's trying to make me feel stupid."  Then, "No, it's just poetry.  It's not supposed to make sense."  The problem was, during this whole conversation with myself, I was thinking about the words, and that pushed me for precious moments out of the characters' lives.     

In other spots, I stopped just to savor the stunning beauty of Zuzak's language, the masterful descriptions. 

The many unusual friendships were the highlight for me.  Liesel and the Mayor's wife suffered both pain and joy through their tenuous literary bond.  Her gentle, loving foster father understood her better than anyone else in the world.  Her foster mother proved far less brusque than Liesel and I first believed.  But without a doubt, Zuzak's gorgeous depiction of Liesel's friendship with the Jew in the basement is the thing I'll remember longest.      

The story itself wasn't a real page-turner for me until the last hundred pages or so, which I read in bed, huddled under the covers crying at this horrible testimony of war. 

Full of dark wisdom and deep humanity, The Book Thief is a good read.

Visit Markus Zuzak's webpage

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