I first saw Markus Zusak when he still had pimples, giving an author talk at a Sydney library. Way before he’d written The Book Thief.
Having read The Underdog, I knew Markus had a way with words. But The Book Thief is unique and will surely acquire the status of a classic. I knew it was a specially crafted tale when I first read it in 2005, and am so glad it’s finally going to be released as a motion picture.
Why is The Book Thief special, besides making me cry?
It’s not just the story, but how it’s written. I could tell you The Book Thief is narrated by death (yes, death), set in Nazi Germany, and is the story of a young girl who steals books and lives with her foster parents who protect a young Jewish man at their peril. You would correctly assume the topic to be dark and depressing.
But Zusak saves the day by balancing his quirky playfulness and humour without detracting from the unimaginably atrocious subject. They say nothing holds a story together better than a likeable narrator. Death has me hanging on his every word throughout the book. Death’s narration is insightful, witty and congenial – to the point where I believe him, that I’m getting useful tips for the afterlife, that he would make an interesting dinner guest…
See what I mean about unique?
Zusak’s spare but poetic descriptions delight:
‘Curtains of rain were drawn around the car’, ’empty hat-stand trees’, ‘delivered by a soft, yellow dressed afternoon’, ‘coat-hanger arms’ ,’murky snow spread out like carpet’, ‘the crowd did what crowds do’. This is only a small sample from the first few pages.
Even Zusak’s formatting is original. His chapters offer featurettes. The contradiction between the subject matter and childishness of his illustrations is nothing short of haunting. Death offers headings which explain, emphasise and intrigue, sometimes offering cryptic hints of what is to come –
* A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY *
Not-leaving: An act of trust and love, often deciphered by children.
Another of The Book Thief’s strengths is point of view. Death contemplates humanity in this sordid period of history, as only death could. Experience the richness of how all Zusak’s characters react to their desperate situations, especially children, even the well-meaning Germans.
If you haven’t read The Book Thief, do yourself a favour and read it before you see the movie (which I’m sure will be wonderful). Savour it, don’t rush reading this treasure.
Been wanting to say that for ages. Has anyone read it?