The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak
Random House, 2006
“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact: you are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.”
The Book Thief leaves me speechless. If humans leave Death, the narrator, feeling haunted, I can say the same of the narrator. Could a book have a better narrator? I doubt it. There is something so perfectly-perfectly-perfect about The Book Thief. It is beautiful and brilliant; absorbing and compelling. It goes ugly places, to be sure, but the language, the style, just can’t be beat. This is a novel that wows and amazes. The characters are so real, so vivid. These characters are very real, very human, very flawed, but the connection is so intense. How can you read Liesel Meminger’s story and not be moved? How can you not care for Liesel, for her new Papa and Mama, for Rudy, for Max?
It would probably be hard to pick a favorite character in this one. Would it be Death, who tells the story so beautifully, so achingly, so straight-forwardly? Would it be Liesel, the girl-turned-woman, whom you just can’t help loving? Her story is so heartbreaking. She is weak-and-strong. She’s vulnerable and spunky. I mean she’s got fight to her, fight in her. And there’s something about her that you just can’t ignore. But she’s been hurt, she’s carrying pain and loss. There’s so much about her that I couldn’t even begin to put into words.
Would it be Hans Hubermann? It may just be. The way he tenderly loves Liesel, the way he’s strong and gentle with her. So very, very understanding. How she becomes his world. How he does everything possible to be a true father to her, to heal her hurts, to piece her heart back together. There is something so very practical and down to earth about him, yet something so sensitive too. Hans Hubermann and his accordion won’t soon be forgotten by anyone who reads this novel.
And then there’s Max, the hidden Jew in the basement. I love Max for himself, it’s true, but I love Max for what he brings out in Hans and Liesel. I love Max’s role in the novel because of how he is able to connect with Liesel, how he is able to connect with this family. His story is powerful, the “books” he writes for Liesel are incredibly compelling, but, this isn’t his story. He’s a big part of the story, to be sure, because of the way Liesel takes him into her heart. But. This story is all about Liesel. As it perhaps should be.
The Book Thief is a book that everyone should experience twice: once in print, once in audio. I’ve read it three times, I believe, and listened to it once, though I’ve listened to some sections of the audio more than once. And it is one of the best, best, best books I’ve ever read. I don’t love it because it’s an easy read. I don’t love it because it’s a happy, happy novel. I love it because it is beautiful, haunting, ugly, yet hopeful.
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