“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that's where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.”
For me this quote sums up this wonderful book brilliantly. Darkly humorous and at the same time wonderfully poetic, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a beautifully touching tale that everyone should read at least once.
Set in a small town outside Munich during WW2, this book follows the story of a young German girl called Liesel Meminger during the war all told from the perspective of Death himself.
The narration by Death is the masterstroke of this book. Not only does it allow Zusak to introduce a broader historical context that wouldn't be possible from the perspective of a young girl, but it also allows him to use some rather wonderful descriptions. Death is not a cold and unfeeling narrator, he is someone who really empathises with humanity and who tries so hard to not get involved in the lives of the souls he collects. Sometimes, however, a certain person takes his attention and Liesel is that person. Death is not your typical narrator, he sees things in colours, he is not a physical presence, he is a feeling and he feels things far more acutely than the human characters. Being a collector of souls he can also see into them which makes him a very insightful narrator. Everything he says is tinged with sadness and as I read the book I often found myself struggling between smiling at the wonderful descriptions and then being smacked in the face by the reality of the situation.
“A small but noteworthy note.
I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.”
Not only is the book beautifully narrated it is also beautifully laid out. I am a complete sucker for authors naming their chapters and I can tell you I have not seen another book with better named chapters than this one. Zusak has also used different font styles for Death’s little asides throughout which I just loved, it draws the eye and made me read faster to get to that section on the next page. At over 500 pages is isn’t a light read but I was so absorbed in the story I found it very hard to put it down.
This was a reread for me and surprisingly I remember not being that struck by it the first time I read it. I must have been having an off day because this is such a beautiful book I can’t imagine how it didn’t move me. I cried (and not just a little sniffle, proper tears) at the end of this, in fact I took it home to finish it because I knew I would not be able to read it at work and leave the office with my dignity intact. It’s very rare that a book like this comes along, a truly unique, touching and poetic story that is now on my favourites shelf. If you haven’t read it, you should.