Thursday, 22 November 2007

Beautiful words: the book thief by Markus Zusack



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.

10 comments:

Lazy Perfectionista said...

I read this a few months ago. It's such an exquisite book, almost like a sculpture, but so painfully sad in places.

Lane said...

Sounds like my cup of tea and as I have some Waterstones vouchers burning a hole in my wallet, this one is going straight in the basket.
Thanks:-)

hesitant scribe said...

I've just finished it. Yesterday, curled up on the couch with a hot wheat-pack and a brew.

I am always saddened when I come to the end of a really good book.

What on earth shall I read next?!

Or perhaps I'll just keep scribbling away at my own novel. Now there's a thought...

JJ said...

My friends the High Priestess of Punk-chew-ation and the Archivist (who you met at Caroline's launch) bought me this when I was in the UK. It's still on my pile, but I will get round to it when I feel less frenetic!
JJx

. said...

I read this when it first came out and to be honest, don't understand what the fuss is about. The story didn't go anywhere and after turning the last page, I wondered what on Earth the book was about.

hesitant scribe said...

jj - yes... tis a good book for a quiet moment, or maybe it might help to calm a frenetic one?

. - interesting. I guess this is not a novel with a trad plotline. It's more a vignette... a slice of time, of a small community's life under the Nazi regime of WWII. I like those kinds of books - ones that allow you to see into someone else's existence, but I guess it's not to everyone's taste.

So don't read it if it's a plot driven story you're after!!!

Anonymous said...

I just finished it for the second time and enjoyed it so much more, so if you can't see that it's the most briliant and masterful book ever published then you're a bit of a Saumensch. (to quote Rosa Hubermann)
I think it is superb, and the way it is written is amazing, it gave me an idea for a great piece of artwork for the final piece for my art project, and i think Markus Zusak must be a genius.

me said...

I just finished the book 2 days ago and loved it. you were right, the story just draws you in. This book is my favorite 'chocolate' :D

Anonymous said...

I love this book. i love the way words are described, like growing on trees and falling off the bed. it's less of a plot, and more like lots of little plots, like a diary, or just looking in on someone else's life.
if you like this book i recommend the Inkheart trilogy (INKHEART, INKSPELL, INKDEATH) by Cornelia Funke. I'm yet to read the last one, but they're truly amazing.

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