Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Markus Zusak: The Book Thief


1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.


It's a small story, about:
a girl
an accordionist
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery.


"Read the book. Smile at it. It's a great book – the greatest book you've ever read." 

My favourite book of all time used to be Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Note: used to be. My favourite book of all time is now The Book Thief. It's a beautiful story... And it's narrated by Death.

I don't even know where to start with this review. I finished the book several days ago but I've needed the time to mull it over. Until now, I didn't realise how much a book could change your life. I realise how cliché that sounds but it's the truth: I love this book and I have changed because of it.

There are so many ways I could describe it to you, but everything seems so inadequate. Every emotion a human being can feel exists within these pages; love, hate, anger, happiness, despair, hurt, loneliness, excitement, anxiousness, elation, stress, contentment, joy, grief. I could continue on with a dictionary full of words, but nothing I say can possibly measure up to the words that make up this book. For a book about the power of words, I genuinely have nothing powerful enough to tell you just how much I loved and hated it. I loved it because it made me so happy and hated it because it shattered my heart.

"I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there." 
- Death

He says it better than I do.

I've have never loved characters so much. And not just the main character, I loved all of them - even Death. They became my family; each character is so vibrant and colourful, with their own endearing characteristics. The story is set in Nazi Germany and follows Liesel, the protagonist, as she moves to a new home, and sheds light on the plight of the working class under the rule of Adolf Hitler. I laughed at the beautiful relationship between Liesel and her childhood best Rudy Steiner, the boy with hair the colour of lemons. I wanted to cause mischief and steal with Rudy, have Mama Rosa swear at me, listen to Papa Hans play the accordion, and read to the Jewish man hiding in the basement. I need to warn you now that you will fall in love with all of these characters, you will not want to let them go, but during the war anything can happen to anyone... Life is sacred and rare. As Death says: he was busy during the war years. 

The narrative structure of the book is unconventional but brilliant; Death jumps back and forth at different points during Liesel's timeline. We will learn about something happening early on, but do not get the build up or the context of the major events until later on; sounds complex, but actually it isn't. It works well, creating a sense of anticipation that echoes the atmosphere of the war-era. The voice of Liesel is strong too, even though she isn't technically the narrator. Death's voice is succinct and penetrates your soul; it is ironic that his narrative makes me feel so aware and alive with emotion. 

Having lived in Britain my entire life, I grew up with a simple perspective with regard to the second World War: Hitler and the Germans were evil and the Allies defeated them. But really it's not that simple. I have read endless amounts of books and seen so many movies about Brits suffering during the Blitz or soldiers suffering at the hands at the Nazis, but what you also have to remember is that the Germans suffered too. There are two sides to every story and two sides to every war. The Book Thief is the other side. Families were separated, views were suppressed and people lost their loved ones too. It's a real eye-opener and challenges you to think. I am still thinking about this novel and its been days since I finished it - Liesel and her friends will linger in your mind and rest in your heart forever, I swear it.  

Rating: *****