Monday, 13 January 2014

Book of the Week: The Book Thief

"The only thing worse than a boy who hates you. A boy who loves you."

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is the first book I read this year, and I’m already certain that it will be one of my favourite reads of 2014, and of all time. It's a bit upsetting to know that I've peaked this early but you know what, I don't regret it. Here's a little insight into why:

The Book Thief follows the tale of Liesel Meminger, a nine year old girl raised by foster parents in one of the poorest villages in Nazi Germany. At first, she isn't even able to read, but as her relationships with her new family and friends develop, she grows to love words, stealing them back from a world that has snatched so much from her. When her family begins hiding a Jew in their basement, they become the closest friends, reading and writing become their solace. It is at this point that Liesel begins to write down her story; the story of the book thief.

Liesel's tale is narrated by Death, who is intrigued by the girl who has danced with him so many times. He picks up her diary when she discards it on one of her darkest days, and he has kept it with him ever since, leafing through the pages so many times that it is starting to fade. The Book Thief paints a very different picture Death, and one that I'm very fond of. He isn't evil or cold hearted; he is just doing his job, and even seems reluctant to do so sometimes. He puts it very succinctly himself. He says something along the lines of people assume that Death and War go hand in hand, but we should actually imagine War being the horrifically demanding boss, asking Death for the impossible, and when Death succeeds, he just demands more. I don't know about you, but I thought that was a really profound way to look at it.  It seems quite morbid to have Death narrate your story, but actually, he is one of the more uplifting, light hearted aspects of the tome. Indeed, his observations on human behaviour are laugh out loud on occasion. It's definitely worth having a read just to hear the perspective of this unconventional storyteller.
One of Death's chilling observations - one of my favourite things about the book.
One thing that really struck me about the book was that Death has a very different way of storytelling. He doesn't believe in suspense or mystery like us mere mortals, and he explains to us that it's not what happens, but how we get there. As a result, there are some rather ominous passages in the book, in which we hear about the deaths and heartache to come. There's something quite striking about suddenly being told that a character will die some day soon, when you are engrossed in one of their happiest moments. I admit, this technique could have really backfired, but it actually worked as an unexpected vehicle for building suspense, like ripping off a plaster. You know the pain is coming, but you're powerless to stop it and, in some odd way, eager for it to happen. For it to be over. Also, for me, it had the really significant effect of making me value life. Bit cheesy I know, but when reading, you are constantly reminded that the characters don't know what's waiting round the corner for them, and they are unaware that these will be the happiest moments of their lives. This is true of all of us - we don't know what will happen, so we should cherish every moment. 

And on that rather depressing note, lets move on, shall we? Another element of the book which I found rather intriguing was seeing Nazi Germany through the eyes of a German girl.  So often in war time novels, we are given the perspective of English soldiers, or Jewish victims, in which Germany is the villainous background entity, constantly looming but never really getting a part. This book takes the position that not every German was a Nazi sympathiser, and some still lived in poverty and fear, They were people too, and I think that is often overlooked. It's an obvious fact when you think about it, but one seldom considered by English writers.

This is the first story that's reduced me to tears in a very long time and I would be lying if I told you that this is a feel good book. It's not. You'll be horrified and heartbroken on occasion. But you will also read some of the most poignant, heartwarming pages that I have encountered in a long time. It showcases the terrible side of human nature, but also the good. It's wonderful to read what some people are capable of in the face of so much horror and poverty, and I found myself visibly angry about the fact that life can be so cruel and unfair to those who deserve so much joy, but are dealt so much pain. So if you want a happy book, maybe slide this one back onto the shelf, but if what you seek is an beautifully emotional tale that really resonates in so many ways, then open this one up. Never has a tale affected me more than the story of The Book Thief

Have you read The Book Thief? Did you enjoy it? How did it affect you? Let me know!


P.s. Apologies that this didn't go up yesterday. I had a bit of  mishap with scheduling. Great start to the year.

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  1. I always pass this book at the book store. I think I'll pick it up now and give it a read. Great review!

    xo Deborah
    Coffee, Prose, and Pretty Clothes

    1. Thank you =) It's definitely worth picking up! I've got my mum reading it now, and she loves it too! xx

  2. My friend actually gifted me this book for Christmas, and me being the stubborn film freak said I wanted to watch the film first to avoid "spoilers"- however your review is so well articulated and insightful that I can't wait any longer!

    Nell at And Nell Writes

    1. Aww, thank you so much! That's really are me smile :) I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did! xx