Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

"Even Death has a heart"

It's been weeks since I finished The Book Thief  and my memory being what it is, won't allow me the details to write a decent review, but still I can't leave it at nothing.  I don't want to forget the impact it had on me and somewhere down the line, at the very least, I'll remember that I loved it enough to feature it.  And who knows, I might even read it again--which I rarely do.  I picked this book up and put it down again because I didn't quite grasp where it was headed and my mind needed easy at the time.  Looking back, I can't believe that the first three chapters which eluded me would set the scene for the entire story and that when it ended I would go back to the beginning and cry at the brilliance of it all.  Needless to say, I love this novel and once death grasped me in his pincers I was eager to surrender. It is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite reads.

As I was googling the title for an image of the book I found these other covers.  I'm wondering what made Mr. Zusak decide on the cover he did, the one with the dominoes.  Maybe there are lots of different covers in print, but it seems to me the domino one is most prevalent. I guess it might be because the dominoes represent a deeper theme from the story rather than the other covers which are more straight forward and perhaps less thought provoking.  I do love them though, and wonder which one I'd choose if I were in charge.  Which one would lure me in..?

In any case, I think this novel is completely profound. With Death as narrator,  I found myself literally gasping, every chapter or so, as Death so cleverly and eloquently describes his experience with the human race; his voice was so unexpected, his observations so acute and offbeat, I was mesmerized. Mr. Zusak said in an interview that he believes every page must contain at least one gem and I can say for certain this is the case in The Book Thief.  This book encapsulates everything I love in a novel:  a unique concept, humanistic themes, thought provoking symbols, endearing characters, and a believable plot and voice.

The story is set in Germany during World War II and focuses on a young girl, Liesel, her foster family, and their neighbors who live on Himmel (heaven) Street. Very often I've read books from the opposite perspective, and I found it very interesting to view the war from the eyes of non-Jewish families. As I mentioned before, the most unique aspect of the book to me was the narration told from the omniscient viewpoint of Death.  I thought this choice was brilliant. Who better to describe a war than Death himself, who has to collect the souls of the war's casualties.  Furthermore, Death was not what you'd expect, he was funny, sarcastic, poignant, depressive, eloquent and extremely wise.

One example from the book is a quote from Death as he witnesses a bonfire/book burning. He mentions that the enthusiasm of the crowd invited a lot of "Heil Hitlers!", to which he says:

You know, it actually makes me wonder if anyone ever lost an eye or injured a hand or wrist with all of that. You'd only need to be facing the wrong way at the wrong time or stand marginally too close to another person. Perhaps people did get injured. Personally, I can only tell you that no one died from it, or at least, not physically. There was, of course, the matter of forty million people I picked up by the time the whole thing was finished, but that's getting all metaphoric (93).
Once I had determined the narrator, I expected a grim, unforgiving voice, but this paragraph illustrates that his tone was anything but. I loved thinking of Death in terms of an observer and as someone who still, after thousands of years, remains mystified by the human race.  

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race—that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant. (419)

With all of this death talk, I'm not giving enough credit to the plot and characters themselves which are unforgettable.  The story is captivating, raw and gripping and Leisel, Max, Hans and Rudy (darling Rudy) will be tucked in my heart for a good, long time.  His descriptive language is beautiful and there are so many vivid images and touching moments in this novel that I cannot compliment the incredible mind of Markus Zusak enough.  This is where I simply give up because I cannot do this story justice.  

The awe lies in discovering for yourself.  

"The words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.” 

"She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on...” 

"Sleepy air seemed to have followed her.The scrawled words of practice stood magnificently on the wall by the stairs, jagged and childlike and sweet. They looked on as both the hidden Jew and the girl slept, hand to shoulder.  They breathed. German and Jewish lungs.” 

"The desperate Jews—their spirits in my lap as we sat on the roof, next to the steaming chimneys."

“A human doesn't have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I'm always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.” 

“Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear.” 

“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do - the best ones. The ones who rise up and say "I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come." Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.” 

“I carried him softly through the broken street...with him I tried a little harder. I watched the contents of his soul for a moment. He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It's his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.” 

"I am haunted by humans"


Nick said...

"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." MZ

Yes best read in a while! Glad you told me to read it

I love reading your posts!

jill said...

I just might have to read it. Great sell on this, I'm sure magnificent book.

Jek said...

Well considering I was getting dizzy just reading the review, I think this one may be WAY OVER MY HEAD. I will stick to Little Critters in this stage of my life. Good post though, I think.

kamille frey said...

i just got SOOO excited to read this! this looks like my type of book. thanks for posting it! i think we share similar souls my friend:)

Anonymous said...

I have just barely started and I am in heaven. I read your review first so that I wouldn't struggle. I am glad that I did because I was captured on the first page. The past few months I have been submerged into World War II in so many different ways: books, movies, memories, etc. This is definitely WWII in a whole different light. Thanks for your brilliant mind and soul. Lots of love,
Aunt Nancy

Anonymous said...

All I can say after completing this unbelievable book is this: Amen, Jennifer. Amen, Jennifer. You said it all.
Aunt Nancy