The Book Thief – a review

Last month, I found my reading had a theme – Books – and that began with  Rachel Caine’s Ink and Bone, which I reviewed on July 23rd.

Now I have finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I review below, but I lied when I said, “I don’t intend to move on from there to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451…” That’s my current read, but I promise a change of direction next time.

However, it was weird to stumble on a short by Kristine Kathryn Rusch that echoed that book theme, burning books, and the Library of Alexandra. If you can find it, The Midbury Lake Incident is part of the Uncollected Anthology Magical Libraries.

Anyway, all this synchronicity is giving me goose-bumps. But then Death was a quirky character in Jackie Moore Kessler’s Hunger, and now in The Book Thief, the narrator is Death with opinions and frailties.

So before I give my latest review, and as we are on the subject of reviews, I came across this topical post: http://terrytyler59.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/augustreviews-because-every-little-helps.html

 

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The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak was the best-selling debut literary novel of the year 2007, selling over 400,000 copies. The author is a prize-winning writer of children’s books, and this, his first novel for adults, proved to be a triumphant success. The book is extraordinary on many levels: moving, yet restrained, angry yet balanced — and written with the kind of elegance found all too rarely in fiction these days. The book’s narrator is nothing less than Death itself, regaling us with a remarkable tale of book burnings, treachery and theft. The book never forgets the primary purpose of compelling the reader’s attention, yet which nevertheless is able to impart a cogent message about the importance of words, particularly in those societies which regard the word as dangerous (the book is set during the Nazi regime, but this message is all too relevant in many places in the world today).
Nine-year-old Liesel lives with her foster family on Himmel Street during the dark days of the Third Reich. Her Communist parents have been transported to a concentration camp, and during the funeral for her brother, she manages to steal a macabre book: it is, in fact, a gravediggers’ instruction manual. This is the first of many books which will pass through her hands as the carnage of the Second World War begins to hungrily claim lives. Both Liesel and her fellow inhabitants of Himmel Street will find themselves changed by both words on the printed page and the horrendous events happening around them.

I have no hesitation in standing alongside those readers that loved this book. Words are important to me as a writer and a reader, so I could feel for the title character, Liesel, and for all those swept in different directions by the power of the word.

On the one hand, the novel shows how easily the sweet insidious words of Hitler could sway so many ordinary people. Most of the characters are German citizens reacting like so many of us do…with knee-jerk responses. Life goes on. It’s too easy to sit back and then realise too late what is really going on. Sadly, just glancing at current politics, we haven’t learnt from those dark days.

On the other hand, words are the beacon of hope for Liesel and others. Books create possibilities, whether classics or stories written on the paint covered pages of Mein Kampf. They inspire.

“When she came to write her story, she would wonder when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything.”

Although the Holocaust is building in the background, and the plight of one particular Jew, Max, touches Liesel and our lives, this is a novel about the way that German people reacted to the events at that time. Markus Zusak might be Australian but his mother Lisa is originally from Germany and his father Helmut is from Austria. So they would have known about those times, and having had German friends, I know that the perspective of the citizens was similar to what Liesel experienced. And this novel is from the viewpoint of a child – well except for when Death paints the darker aspects of events, as he/it is always there, especially when the atrocities happen or a child dies senselessly.

Death is a tragic narrator, struggling to understand humanity and trying to take a caring approach to a distasteful job, because “even death has a heart”.

“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.”

Death’s observations enhance the unfolding story, and in places Death gets the best lines:

“The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying?”

And then says, “I am haunted by Humans.” And Death is drawn to Liesel’s story in which there are so many rich characters, from Papa to Rudy Steiner to the Mayor’s Wife, and so many others.

In fact, there was so much to love, from poetic passages and images, to emotion wringing incidents, that I must re-read “The Book Thief”.

The final words must be Liesel’s, and to discover more pick up the novel.

“Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.”

 

 

 

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#IWSG – First Piece of Writing

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day, and from last month the group have revved up IWSG Day to make it more fun and interactive!

Every month, they’ll announce a question that members can answer in the IWSG Day post. These questions may prompt us to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. So on to the AUGUST 3rd QUESTION: 

What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring writer? Where is it now? Collecting dust or has it been published?

My immediate reaction is: do false starts to my stuttering career count?

I suspect the well-intentioned but probably delusional first scribblings don’t – like the stories about animals that I dreamt up as a child. Nor does my prize-winning essay about ‘A Day in the Life of a Helicopter Pilot’ that won me 3 days with the Royal Navy, aged about eleven.

As for all the manuscripts taking up space on my hard drive, they are post-debut/ “Spiral of Hooves” so don’t qualify.

So I have to time travel back to the early 1970s when I was at school near Montreal, and created BILINSSEF, a bilingual society that showed classic science fiction films and encouraged aspiring SF and fantasy writers. I even published a magazine called MIND SPHERE, although I fear that my shorts were the bad ones.

I have the notes and outlines for some of those stories, but not sadly any of the magazines. Nor have I got my first ever draft novel, which was a fantasy about a unicorn and a god. The god had given himself amnesia believing that the real divine being would rescue a time-fractured world. Cue the unicorn.

Sadly – or maybe fortunately – the manuscript was probably trashed when I left Canada, although a few of the ideas have filtered through to works in progress…including the unicorn, even if his nature has changed.

Moral: sometimes age improves ideas as well as wine. And some wine doesn’t age at all well.

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Oak Wine Barrels – Copyright: Sanjay Acharya

 

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with my fellow writers.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group –https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

Our revved up IWSG Day question may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

The awesome co-hosts for this August 3 posting of the IWSG are Tamara Narayan, Tonja Drecker, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Lauren @ Pensuasion, Stephen Tremp, and Julie Flanders!