Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Book Look Review "The Book Thief"
“The Book Thief”
As a toddler my mother discovered that I loved to be read to. I enjoyed any book – picture book, poetry for children, literally anything. She also quickly (and selfishly I think!) found that she could read to me from her own adult book since it was the sound of the words that I loved, not the story. I would rest my little head on her arm and listen to James Michener, Pearl S. Buck and other authors writing above my comprehension level. I may be regressing by reading young adult fiction like “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak, but I don’t think so. In fact, due to the language in this novel I would be cautious giving it to a young reader. My mother tells me that she edited any swearing while reading to me as a child, and you may want to do a young reader the same service.
This is the haunting tale of little Liesel left in the care of Hans and Rosa Hubermann in 1939 in the city of Molching, near Munich. “It’s just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . .” according to the narrator – who is Death.
Death is a patient and overworked gatherer of souls. As he observes humans he comments on their perplexing actions and describes events with an odd combination of detachment and compassion. He is an unusual choice to tell a story but his perspective is oddly compelling.
The complicated moral questions of stealing food to survive starvation of the body and stealing books to survive starvation of the soul, breaking the law to hide a Jew and joining the Nazi Party to protect your family emerge as questions for the reader. The first book that Death observes Liesel stealing is the Grave-Diggers handbook that falls out of the pocket of the grave digger who dug her little brother’s grave. The second book is snatched from a smoldering Nazi book burning pyre. And so her book thieving begins.
Zusak has created a poignant novel of love, hope and despair. There are so many poetic phrases but I’ll share a few examples: “His tie is a pendulum, long dead in its clock.” Her teeth “elbow each other for room.” These descriptions form instant pictures for us with just a few well chosen words.
As an adult I still love the sound of a book and this is an extraordinarily crafted one. Read it aloud, edit the language, and enjoy some of the best prose written.