Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Book Thief

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“When death captures me,” the boy vowed, “he will feel my fist on his face.”
Personally, I quite like that. Such stupid gallantry.
I like that a lot.

A few days ago, when I was starting The Book Thief, my mother stopped by and saw the book on my coffee table. Having just read it herself (and knowing me better than anyone else in the world, I might add), she was determined to save me from myself. She did her very best to convince me not to read it. She described in detail the three day long headache all the crying had caused her and the heartache she now has to live with, but I’m nothing if not stubborn. I guess I never learned to listen to my mother.
I’m pretty sure her parting sentence was: “Don’t come crying to me.” And I didn’t. I huddled in a corner and cried inconsolably instead.

Death himself narrates the story about a little girl named Liesel growing up with her foster parents in Nazi Germany. At the beginning, I felt somewhat intimidated by the idea of Death as a narrator. I assumed that his voice would be dark and thunderous, but for the most part, he was a ray of light illuminating earth’s saddest time. Incredibly insightful observations and occasional dry humor are only some of the things no one but Death could have brought into this story. Besides, we hear people calling God’s name every day for many reasons, but when Death calls to Him in despair and even those calls fall on deaf ears, no one can fail to understand the gravity of the situation.

I do not carry a sickle or a scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.
And I don’t have those skull-like
facial features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.

The Book Thief is not one of those books you read compulsively, desperate to find out what’s on the next page. No. It is, in fact, better to read it slowly, in small doses, in a way that allows you to savor every word and absorb the power and the magic it contains. All the while, you know what’s going to happen. Death has no patience for mysteries. However, anticipation of the inevitable makes it even worse. My whole body was tingling with fear because I knew what was coming and I knew that it was only a matter of time.

Zusak found a way to give a fresh approach to a much-told story. He offered a glimpse at the other side of the coin. Really, should we feel sorry for the people hiding in a basement in Munich suburbs? Sure, bombs are falling on their heads, but most of them are members of the Nazi Party, willingly or reluctantly. Some of them truly think that Jews are no better than rats. Some, on the other hand, are hiding a Jew in their own basement. Some are just innocent children. But the more important question is, are we any better at all if we don’t feel compassion and sorrow? Death does a great job of asking all these questions in a calm, unobtrusive way.

I’m not pretentious enough to believe that my clumsy words can ever do this book justice. I won’t even try. Time will speak for it, as I’m pretty sure it will survive for decades and generations to come. The Book Thief and Markus Zusak should find their place in every school textbook all over the world.
Seven thousand stars could never be enough for this book.

EDIT: A few kind words from the man himself:


  1. A beautiful review of a beautiful book! Mr Zusak was right, you are an amazing writer yourself. That's so awesome that he tweeted you about your review! Don't you love when something like that happens?! (Well, when it's a positive review anyway.)
    This book is one that will stick with you for a long time after you read it, that's for sure!

  2. Really, Donna, hearing back from him was so amazing, I still can't believe it! I'm not the fainting sort, but I came close that day. It's wonderful when any author reacts in some way, but when it's Zusak, it's huge!

    I'm reading his other book now, I Am the Messenger, and loving every word. It's very different from The Book Thief, but somehow that makes it even better. He is SO talented! :)

  3. And I forgot to thank you, you are too kind. :)

  4. This is fabulous. Your words are as beautiful as the words printed inside the book. You, my dear, can definitely write. You definitely did this book justice :) New follower, sweetheart~

    Demi @ Breaking Bookshelves

  5. Thank you so much! This book is one of my 3 all-time favorites. Zusak just never disappoints. :)

    And thanks for following, of course.

  6. I've been wanting to read this book but I don't know if I'm prepared for it yet. Have you read When a Monster Calls? That's a good one too.

  7. Not yet, I'm afraid. Neither of us has gathered the courage to read A Monster Calls. We probably should, and soon.

    Thanks for stopping by, John.

  8. Markus Zusak himself telling you you can write! I knew you can write, of course, but how about that! *faints for Maja*


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