Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The great thing about running a book club is that I get to pick the book, or at least have it up for vote. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a book I've wanted to read for ages yet never got round to but with it being victorious in the vote, I gladly sat down and devoured it.
The Book Thief by Dean the cat
One reason for picking it is also there is a film version out very soon and i didn't want to taint my experience of the source material. The book is based in Germany at the start of World War II but instead of focusing on the army or the war, it picks it's lead as an 11 year old girl off to live with her foster parents. The war is simply a backdrop to her life. Another expert twist is that the whole book is seen through the eyes of, and narrated by, Death.

Liesel, the girl in question, has a wicked start to her story, with her younger brother dying in the first few pages and her distant yet lovable mother leaving not long after. Her brother leans heavily on her conscience and moulds her character throughout the book. At her brothers funeral she comes across a book, The Grave Diggers manual and, unable to read but wanting to find something to hold on to, she takes it. The first of many.

When Liesel finally arrives at her adoptive parents this is where the book takes off. The characters are full of life. Her 'Father' Hans and 'Mother' Rosa create a world of discipline, safety, love and freedom, with Liesel's love growing each day for Hans, who each night helps Liesel read. Rudy, the boy a few doors down and best friend is captivated by Liesel and the pair are in love more or less from the start, but the young love that children find. Although with little food and in the slums of Germany, the pair, along with other kids, make the best, with Rudy and Liesel becoming expert thieves, plotting schemes, capturing adolescence perfectly.

The war is far away from her home of Himmel Street but at several points it creeps in with a procession of Jews appearing more often, and Hans's son putting all his faith in the Fuhrer. Promises made 20 years ago haunt the family but also open them up to a life much more colourful and rewarding.

I loved this book from page 1. It was harrowing, tense, depressing yet uplifting too. I have never cried at a book but I had a lump in my throat at one specific part. It is a book that, very cleverly, revealed everything about Liesel's future life due to the narration from Death, way before the book was over, in fact about a third of the way through we find out the ending. Even when we know what's coming, the way Markus Zusak pulls no punches and uses symbolism choked me.

I've given The Book Thief a massive 9 cushions on the Comfometer. I miss these characters.


PS The trailer for the film is a bit too syrupy for me.