Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Book 4 of 2015: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Many of the books that I read this year were contributions towards the Reading Challenge I'm working through. I didn't really impose any strict restrictions on myself for this challenge, but I aimed to read books I'd never read before and especially books which could be classed as 'classics'; my particular favourites were ones which could be gotten for free via Project Gutenberg.

Of course, that wasn't always the practical option, and I always wanted to try to read books which were near the bottom of my To-Read list. I've got books which always end up on one shelf or another, that get shunted to the end of my pile and so even when I rearrange my bookcases they don't move further up the list. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was one of those; as I sort my books by series, genre and author (usually), no matter where I put it, it always ended up at the end of the group. When I had to read a book that had been turn into a movie, this seemed like a good excuse to bump it up my list.

The Book Thief tells the story of Liesl, the titular book thief, during the Second World War. It's narrated by Death, who first meets her the night that her brother dies whilst they are travelling across the country to live with foster parents. Through the war Liesl learns some harsh realities about the world she lives in, makes and loses friends, and is forced to grow up. Death oversees all, telling the story in the way only Death could tell it.

I read this as part of a 'book tree' several years ago; my one and only time I'd read this book previously. I picked up my copy from a charity shop a few years ago when I was attempting to read a book by an author for each letter of the alphabet (I never got around to this one). I remembered the book really fondly and could remember loving it; I though I remembered the story really clearly but once I got started on it, I realised just how little I remembered. There were bits of it that I'd forgotten completely, even though I remembered the general story; at times it felt like I was almost reading it for the first time.

I love the way that it's written. When I read reviews of The Book Thief it seems like a Marmite thing; people either love the way Death sees the world of the living, or they hate it. I'm firmly in the love camp. It makes perfect sense to me. I mean, Death isn't human. He (It?) doesn't see the world that we do, so why should things be described in a human way? Death smells colours, tastes feelings, and all senses seem similarly interchangeable. It creates a really beautiful style and yet it makes sense as well; I know exactly what is meant when something like a 'yellow feeling' is mentioned and as the story progresses I notice them less and less.

Another thing lots of readers don't seem to like is the way that the story jumps around. You'll be introduced to a character and told that they die later all in the same sentence. Again, that makes sense to me because why would Death experience time in the way humans do. Death is omnipresent and I imagine would experience all times all the time, so why shouldn't Death look at a person and know their whole life story. Beginnings and endings only matter to people because that's the order we experience them in; Death's all about the endings, so obviously that's going to be important when people are introduced.

I really like that approach. It's different and unexpected from a story because that just. not. how. things. are done. I like stories that do things differently. Besides, although to might know that a character is going to die, you don't actually know how you're going to get to that point. It's a spoiler, but not a total spoiler because you don't really know the whole story.

This time around the end of the story had an unexpected effect on me too. I cried.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've cried during a book. The Time Traveler's Wife does it to me, without fail. The Fault in Our Stars is one of the more recent ones to make me cry. I don't remember The Book Thief making me cry on my last read of it. I'd like to say that part of the reason was because I was reading it in bed at night before I left my Mum's house after visiting staying there for a week, but I think a good chunk of the reason for the tears were because the book touched me in a way not many books do.

It's one of only two books to have been awarded five stars in my book journal so far this year. I'm pretty hard to please when it comes to five star reviews!


  1. This is a book I thought I always thought I'd read but reading your review it doesn't sound familiar ... must pick it up next time I'm in the book club. Thanks for a great review :)

    1. Definitely, definitely try it! It's one of those books that will stay with you.

      It's been made into a film too (which I've not seen myself yet), but I'd really recommend reading the book before seeing the film. It's so magical you don't want to go into it with any preconceptions. ;-)


Let me know what you think. :-)