The only thing I needed to hear to convince me to read this book was that the narrator was Death.
The narrator…is DEATH?! Sold.
I’m a sucker for a hook, like a great narrator, a fascinating setting or a talking pig and this hook did not disappoint (with the narrator, I mean-no talking pigs 🙂 ). The characters in Markus Zusaks’ The Book Thief are wonderful people, deep and complex. But the real star, what takes this book from good to great, is the portrayal of Death as the narrator. Death is seen here as a sympathetic but unrelenting entity. Over-worked by the horrors of the second world war, we are almost reminded of a war-weary field surgeon in the mix of despair, necessary detachment and black humour that Death exudes. He (she?) at times laments at the unfair nature of his work and at humankind’s capacity for murder: “So much good, so much evil. Just add water”.
A touching, profound and, at times surprisingly funny, narration.
The story is a beautiful ode to the power of books, set in a WW2-era German town located between Munich and the concentration camp of Dachau. Liesel Meminger, a young German girl is sent there to live with a foster family to keep her safe. Illiterate at the beginning of the book, we see Liesel learning to read first as just something to do when the nightmares keep her up at night. Eventually she embraces reading as salvation, a way to maintain hope while living in a country that would exterminate its own people and having to pretend to embrace politics she has no way of understanding. She also has to learn how to mask her fear and behave with discretion when her foster parents take a huge risk and hide a Jewish man in their basement. This man shares her love of books and together they escape what has become of their world by stealing books.
This is a book about courage, friendship, kindness and compassion. The story has its share of sadness but it is a artfully written and uplifting childrens book that any adult would enjoy just as much.
English essayist and literary critic Walter Pater once said “Books are a refuge, a sort of cloistral refuge, from the vulgarities of the actual world.” A sentiment beautifully captured in The Book Thief.