Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review of The Book Thief

The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak, YA historical fiction/magical realism, 552 pages, published 2005.

How can you not love a book that teaches you to curse in a new language? This one improved my vocabulary immensely. Aussloch: ass licker. Saumensh: pig person; Sheisskopf : shithead.

For a story about nazis, air raids, jewish people hiding out in basements, collective brutality and destruction of life, the impact of the holocaust on the everyday population of Munich, and the destruction of war caused on a cosmic scale, it was good. What made it even better were two factors:
1) It is narrated by death himself.
2) It is not just funny, but truly comic, and by that I mean the real comedy that is somehow inextricably entwined with the tragic. A good writer knows one balances out the other: think Osric in Hamlet. Think of the imagined death of Hero in Much Ado About Nothing. Think Yossarian in Catch 22. It helps us look away from suffering and misery for a while to see the other side of human existence, the laughter which eases our pain, and allows us to see love.

Death, the narrator, gets all the best lines in the book. He has the absolutely best one at the end: “I am haunted by humans.” And strangely enough though he comes across as tired beauracrat going through the endless gathering of souls, we get a glimpse of him occasionally charmed by human beings.

He meets the main character Liesel when he stops to pick up her brother. The girl goes into a foster home and never sees her real mother again. She gets a new family. A well meaning father Hans Huberman and his wife rosa: a foul mouthed square shapeless woman who likes to curse and oddly enough, is how she shows her affection.

We come to love all the characters because they are smaller players in a larger world. We see them suffering the war and the nazis like anyone else. We see them sent on missions they hate.

But most of all we see them suffer the consequences of death appearing in their lives, and death himself is impressed by the ways they come up to deal with him.

In a truly ironic and brilliant twist, the other survivor of the war besides Liesel is Max, the jew who hides in their basement for months, and who ends up going to dachau, yet manages to survive. Max is a fist fighter who wants to one day “punch death in the face when he sees him.” How can you not like someone like that?

You will love this book. You will love its outrageous typescript and formatting. You will love the artwork. You will love, most of all, the author for his faith in humans, and his ability to show you things about human nature you never believed possible.

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