The Book Thief: A Definitive Future Classic

“The Book Thief” is unsettling and unsentimental, yet ultimately poetic.It’s grimness and tragedy runs through the reader’s mind like a black- and-white movie, bereft of the colours of life. Markus Zusak may not have lived under Nazi domination, but “The Book Thief” deserves a place on the same shelf with “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank.It seems poised to become a classic.This is a beautifully balanced piece of storytelling with glimpses of what is yet to come: sometimes misleading, sometimes all too true.We meet all shades of German, from truly committed Nazis to the likes of Hans Hubermann. Zusak is no apologist, but able to give a remarkable insight into the human psyche. Unsettling, thought-provoking, life-affirming, triumphant and tragic, this is a novel of breathtaking scope, masterfully told. It is an important piece of work. I would highly recommend it to everyone!

This is a moving work which will make many eyes brim. Set in Germany in the years 1939-1943, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, narrated by Death who has in his possession the book she wrote about these years. So, in a way, they are both book thieves. Liesel steals randomly at first, and later more methodically, but she’s never greedy.Liesel is effectively an orphan. She never knew her father, her the mother disappears after delivering her to her new foster parents, and her the younger the brother died on the train to Molching where the foster parents live. Death first encounters nine-year-old Liesel when her brother dies and hangs around long enough to watch her steal her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook left lying in the snow by her brother’s grave.

Whenever I read a book, I cannot help but read it in two ways: the story itself, and how it’s written. They’re not quite inseparable, but they definitely, support each other. With The Book Thief, Markus Zusak has shown he’s a writer of genius, an artist of words, a poet, a literary marvel. His writing is lyrical, haunting, poetic, profound. Death is rendered vividly, a lonely, haunted being who is drawn to children, who has had a lot of time to contemplate human nature and wonder at it.

Liesel is very real, a child living a child’s life of soccer in the street, stolen pleasures, sudden passions and a full heart while around her bombs drop, maimed veterans hang themselves, bereaved parents move like ghosts, Gestapo takes children away and the dirty skeletons of Jews are paraded through the town. I can’t go any further without talking about the writing itself. From the very first title page, you know you’re in for something very special indeed.”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 savour 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, an anticipation of the inevitable makes it even worse. My whole the body was tingling with fear because I knew what was coming and I knew that it was only a matter of time. Writing like this is not something just anyone can do: it’s true art. Only a writer of Zusak’s talent could make this story work and could get away with such a proliferation of adjectives and adverbs, to write in such a way as to revitalise the language and use words to paint emotion and a vivid visual landscape in a way you’d never before encountered.

This is a book about the power of words and language, and it is fitting that it is written in just such this way. The way this book was written also makes me think of a musical, or an elaborate, flamboyant stage-play. It’s on the title pages for each part, in Death’s asides and manner of emphasising little details or even speech, in the way Death narrates, giving us the ending at the beginning, giving little melodramatic pronouncements that make you shiver. It’s probably the first book I’ve read that makes me feel how I feel watching The Phantom of the Opera if that helps explain it.


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