Perfect fit: The Book Thief

Every now and then you find a book that’s a perfect fit, a book that’s just right, a book that you want to re-read almost as soon as you’ve finished the last page.

For me, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was just such a book – it is easily now in my top five.

I had my suspicions from the beginning, from the cover design, the weight of the book, the font – that this was going to be a book that fit me well. This suspicion was confirmed early:

“HERE IS A SMALL FACT…You are going to die”

“I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.”

I was hooked. With this we meet the narrator of this perfect, horrifying tale; Death.

You might think that the choice of Death as storyteller would make for a terribly dark affair, but, as he says himself, he is in fact quite amiable. For this story, his omnisciences is required and his practical approach to departure is reassuring, in a pragmatic, yet moving way:

“I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A colour will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.”

Gently…

I was of course immediately endeared to Liesel and her love affair with books and words. Her resilience and resourcefulness whilst in great peril was inspiring, and her humanity and compassion was stunning. For a girl so young, Liesel showed many enviable characteristics not the least of which was her wish to not only survive, but to live – she stole books in the same way that she stole food – and for similar reasons. It was not enough for Liesel to simply feed her body, even in an environment of violence and oppression, the need to feed her appetite for words and ideas was ever present.

I should say though, that my attraction to this book was about more than just the plot. Liesel’s story is very moving, but it’s not all that makes this book so special. In my opinion, The Book Thief is as much about how the story is told, as it is about the story itself. It is poetically told, it ebbs and flows like music. It is skillful prose, and it’s quiet intensity makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Markus’ story made me shiver, cry, smile.

It was amazing to read a book that was so carefully put together, one that was so conscious of its pace and rhythm. I’ve read a lot of good stories over the last few years, but few that have been written so beautifully.

“Steadily, the room shrank, till the book thief could touch the shelves within a few small steps. She ran the back of her hand along the first shelf, listening to the shuffle of her fingernails sliding across the spinal cord of each book. It sounded liked an instrument, or the notes of running feet.”

It goes without saying, that I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.

Have you read The Book Thief? What did you think?


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