The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was highly recommended on Goodreads. It was not available in my library and I could not wait to read it. So I ordered it on Flipkart. It was worth every rupee spent.
Let me say at the outset that I am not sure if everyone would like it. It is not filled with plots and sub plots, nor is it peopled by phenomenal characters. And it is set during the Second World War, a time period which does not appeal to many people.
I have read two other books of the Nazi era. They are, The Boy In the Stripped Pyjamas by John Boyne and The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank. Though the truth depicted in the first book is much debated and the second is an authentic diary, I was much moved by them. This is the third book from that period depicting the disruption of the life of innocent children.
The Book Thief is classed under young adult fiction in some countries which might keep many adults from reaching for it. That would be their loss.
The Book Thief is the story of a young German girl Liesel living with foster parents in Germany. It is the story of how the girl learns to read, how she robs a few books to add to her book collection and how Liesel and her foster parents hide a Jew in their basement. It is also the story of her friends, school mates and neighbours and of how they face the distress caused by war. And the girl writes a book about this period in her life.
What makes this simple story stand out is that it is narrated by DEATH. Many people call it a gimmick because the story could have stood on its own. But I am not complaining as some of the most beautiful prose you can read, is uttered by Death.
In this novel, Death is not all black. In the introduction pages itself Death says that it can be cheerful, amiable and affable. But it cannot be nice, because being nice has nothing to do with death. For Death declares, “I meet everyone, once.”
Death acts as a spoilsport and informs us beforehand whose soul it is going to be carrying away next. But that is all right as being forewarned is good, especially if Death was going to carry away my favourite character in the novel, Rudy. Even Death is sad while carrying his soul away and says, “He does something to me that boy. Everytime. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.”
The novel is more than 500 pages long, but there is no hurried movement of story forward. It is filled with pages and pages of beautifully coined and well-worded descriptions about the lives of German kids during the war torn years. We are told about their games, their thieving, their petty squabbles, their love hate relationship and also their hiding in a basement during air raids. The adults are not depicted as Nasty Nazis, but as normal people with their every day living to do and people to love.
I cannot say enough about the crisp and effective language of Markus Zusak. Every page is filled with lines that tug at your heart and makes you read them one more time to let it all sink in.
Finally, when I finished reading this book and closed it with a sigh, my eyes were moist.