The Book Thief

The Book Thief

My March book from The Great Re-Read of 2015 was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

My review after reading it for the second time is as follows:

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

It is painfully beautiful and it will destroy you.

This review was brought to you by a girl who spent her morning in tears as a result of the words within these pages.

Thank you for your time.

But seriously though.

This book was given to me as a present by Chris. He can’t remember where he got it from or when he bought it, or even the actual act of buying it.  Fortunately some of us were paying a bit more attention and I’ve been able to narrow the field down slightly- he bought it from a shop here in Manchester, and I think he may have picked up another book for himself at the same time.  I was either heavily pregnant with, or had just given birth to Rudy at the time, as I remember joking that it was a “Thanks for having my baby” present.  That’s significant in a way, as one of the main characters in the book is a Rudy, a beautiful boy with “hair the colour of lemons”, making it impossible for my heart to remain intact when I read it, although honestly I suspect that’s a challenge for everyone who reads it regardless of whether they have a Rudy in their lives or not.

The book is set in Nazi Germany and follows the story of Liesel- a young girl who steals books.  It is also a book narrated by Death.  Yes, you heard me right:  Death tells the story of Liesel, and those close to her during the second world war and his words are brutal and unflinching but also poetic and beautiful.  The story has traces of dark (very dark really…ok, pretty much black if we’re honest) humour and is full of incredibly poignant observations about human nature.

It is also, of course, rooted in historical accuracy and real-life events.  Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the outbreak of war, Kristallnacht, Stalingrad, the concentration camps…all REAL things, that happened to REAL people.  They are also difficult things to read about, to understand, and to digest.  But when woven into a story like The Book Thief, have the strange effect of becoming at once more tangible and yet even more hideously unbelievable.  “How did that happen?!”  We ask ourselves.  And stories show us the answer: horribly easily.  So when my stomach churns reading about Max hiding in the cellar and when I cry over the fate of Rudy, I’d usually tell myself It’s not real, but although The Book Thief is a work of fiction, in this case I can’t.  Because while Max and Rudy may not have existed anywhere other than in Zusak’s imagination, people exactly like them did, which is what is at once so incredibly terrible and wonderful about the story.  Having Death as the narrator is really just the icing on the cake- it would have been a fantastic book told from any point of view, but Death gives it a unique perspective and voice that lingers in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page.

So that was my experience of re-reading The Book Thief: tears.  Lots of tears.

And I think you should all go and read it RIGHT NOW.

Next month’s book will be The Outcast by Sadie Jones, another second-time read for me, so I’ll be back in April blogging my experience of that.

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