Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Book Thief

... an extraordinary novel about the redemptive power of words and reading.

Last night I finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Without doubt, it is one of the best novels I’ve read in my life -- yet I almost passed it by. For three reasons:

It is a whopping 584 pages.

It is set in Nazi Germany during WW2. And the Nazi regime is a subject I can barely stomach. The persecution and slaughter of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Poles...

It is narrated by Death, and the atmosphere is grey and gloomy right from start -- when a ten-year-old girl named Liesel Meminger witnesses the death of her little brother on a freezing cold train.

But it is brilliantly told and BEAUTIFULLY written. And even though it is such a fat book, I slowed down, savouring it more and more.

I prefer a linear narrative, not to know what will happen in the story until reaching that point. But in the case of The Book Thief, I think the use of foreshadowing was essential. Without it, some of the blows might have been too hard.

Even so, it was difficult to read through my tears during a couple of the final chapters.

And I don’t want to ruin the story (it is a great story, with an element of consoling humour), but by the time Liesel Meminger is fourteen, she has experienced more horror and loss than most of us will see in a lifetime.

A truly unforgettable book. I am astonished at what Markus Zusak achieved...

And reminded of a real-life story:

The elderly father of one of my friends was a teenager in Poland during WW2. The Nazis murdered his whole family; his mother and one of his brothers were shot right in front of him. (I don’t know the reason he was spared.) He had no one and nowhere to go, so he started walking. Somewhere along the way he found a gun -- and decided to keep on walking. He reached England a few months before the end of the War, by which time he was seventeen-years-old.

He got a job in the building trade. He worked hard and eventually built his own successful business.

It wasn’t until he retired that he began to have terrible nightmares and to struggle to cope with his past.

War is never over.


Catherine J Gardner said...

I bought the book last month (it's about seven books down in my 'to read') and the assistant was highly excited. Claimed it was the best book he had ever read.

Mary said...

Cate - it is quite amazing. Hope you enjoy it, too. :)

Conduit said...

This book isn't in my posession, but I've flirted with buying it several times. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is in my TBR pile, though, and I want to read that before the movie comes to DVD.

Conduit said...

Hey, I just noticed your movies list there - I've seen a lot of those. I looks like we have quite similar tastes.

Mary said...

Stuart - and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a book I keep picking up but haven't bought! I will look at it again, because I never read the book AFTER seeing the movie. Speaking of which, you obviously have good taste. ;)

Caryn said...

I read The Book Thief a year and a half ago, and I still vividly remember so many of the scenes because they were so wonderfully rendered. And like you, I found some of the scenes very emotionally draining. It is truly amazing what the human spirit can endure.

Mary said...

Caryn – yes, some of the scenes are etched in my mind. And the characters, particularly Liesel, were so beautifully drawn. An incredible book -- and one I will read again. (If only to hear Liesel say “Papa?”) :)