A while back I bought a book in WHSmiths because a) the cover caught my attention, and b) it was on a 3 for 2 offer shelf. (Lessons to be learned here, fellow writers, I'm sure!) It then sat on the bedroom floor in one of many TBR piles for a couple of months until I came off work sick a couple of weeks ago and wanted something to cheer me up.
I begin to read. There is a prologue. 'Death and Chocolate' I read on. "Here is a small fact - You are going to die." Oh Great, I thought, but then I don't know why I thought a novel narrated by Death would cheer me up?! I didn't want to keep reading, but he drew me in. I couldn't help but like him, this narrator, with his scythe and his black cowl.
Set in Germany in WWII, Zusack tells the story of a young girl named Liesel - our book thief. It is a story about language, about the power of words, and about the horrors of Nazi Germany, of learning to read, of growing to love books so much that you will risk your life to rescue just one of the condemned from the embers - the Nazi Party even as you dig, standing so close to you.
This is not a book to pick up and plough through, rather one to be digested at regular intervals, like chocolate. And words have a physical presence in this novel, they have actions and weight attached to them. They are "thrown down" at people's feet. When Liesel is learning to read, trying to match the written word, to her Papa's voice, "the soft spoken words fell off the side of the bed, emptying onto the floor like powder."
It is a novel to be to be savoured rather than gulped down, despite the fact that the content may make your throat constrict at times; the lines of Jews - "Stars of David were plastered to their shirts, and misery was attached to them as if assigned," walking, staggering, being beaten towards Dachau.
I'm still only half way through so I can't tell you how it ends. It might not be very happy, after all, Death is narrating, but I highly recommend it to anyone who loves words, and books. It will even teach you how to swear in German!
the book thief by Markus Zusack is available from all good bookshops. It is available in an adult edition and a teenage edition. (I have the adult one and have no idea if the text is identical or not.) For an extract, more about the novel, and links to buy, visit here.