Friday, August 22, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak // My Heart is Shredded


It's just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids - as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Here is what I knew about The Book Thief  right before I began reading it:

  1. It is set in WWII
  2. It is narrated by Death
  3. It made my sister cry desperately. 
If you don't know my sister, I would like to point out that #3 is a very rare occurrence. So I knew that there was Something Special about this book.

Still, I didn't realize it would turn me into a sniveling, tissue-less blob with a broken heart and shredded emotiones. (Seriously, I had NO TISSUES with me. I was freaking out the more I kept getting pummeled with feels, wondering what the heck I would do with all this ick on my face. Thankfully, I had just left work and had my dirty scrubs in my bag, so I used those. I was sitting on the steps of the Field Museum, bawling into some sky-blue scrubs, and the passersby must have thought I was crazy.)

Anyway, what I find odd about The Book Thief  is that Death is such an spoilery narrator. He/She continually warns us about who is going to die, but here comes the strange part - even though I knew what was coming, and had (I thought) steeled my heart against it, I still dissolved into that weepy, heartbroken blob when it happened. How does that even work? That goes against all logic. Markus Zusak is capable of working magic, obviously.

With Death narrating, it gives the book a slightly distant feel. Though the characters are spectacularly deep and well-written, I still felt that I was somehow watching from a distance, from above, because that is how Death is observing. And then, as though to emphasize this separation, Zusak employs an abundance of passive voice. Though, it is true (as my sister remarked) that passive voice has never been used so well and so perfectly. 

So one of my favorite bloggers, Kayla at The Thousand Lives, has this feature called Saturated Reads where she talks about what colors a book made her think of. The Book Thief made me think of that feature, because it has some pretty clearly defined colors for me. (Or non-colors, in a sense.) 
Anyway, here they are:

Its practically colorless, except for a hint of brown. And now as I look at those color blocks, I realize that those are really the colors of war. When we see a war film, its all very dusky, dark, and colorless - a lot of greys, blacks, and browns. And though The Book Thief isn't specifically about war, it's definitely about war's causes and effects, so I suppose those colors make sense. But the fogginess just adds to this feeling of distance, of separation. 
And those colors aren't the red, white, and black that are mentioned in the book. Though, now I think, perhaps they are, except covered in a layer of dust and fog. That would make even more sense.

I would now like to make a confession.
I keep comparing The Book Thief and Code Name Verity in my head, and I'm not sure why. 
They are two entirely different books, except for the fact that they are both set during WWII and both are written in a unique and unexpected way. Perhaps it is because I read them practically one after the other. But still - I really shouldn't be comparing them.

Whatever it is, my ultimate conclusion is this: 
Code Name Verity messed with me intellectually and made my brain explode - it is the first (the only) non classic on my mental Excellent list. 
The Book Thief made me break down in sudden, unstoppable tears in public - it is the first (the only) book to ever do that to me
Both of these things mean a book is of high quality in my opinion. 
So because I can't compare them - I will stop and just leave it at that.

Now go and read The Book Thief so you can also embarrass yourself by breaking down in utter distress while family members wonder about your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Or you could be wise and read it in your room with the door locked, which would have been the smart thing for me to do.

Now I just have to watch the movie of The Book Thief. (During which I know I will become a sobbing emotional blob again. Why do I torture myself so?)

Have you read The Book Thief? Did you cry? (Don't be shy, I know you did...)
Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Oh and - please warn before spoiling in the comments!



  1. Wow, very interesting concept with the colours. I never thought about books and stories in that way. I've been wanting to read this book for awhile and your review has intrigued me even more.

    1. I'm glad you're intrigued! You should definitely read it.

      And all credits for the books-as-color idea go to Kayla (who I mention in the post).

  2. I know, I do have to read the book; I saw the movie (and yes, I cried). But from watching the movie, I did not understand the craze about the story. And that is probably b/c I am not a very good movie critic, and I'd rather read a story version anyway. So I think I need to read the book to get a better experience of the story. Do have tissues nearby, though, when you watch the movie.

    1. Trust me, I will definitely be prepared with plenty tissues when I watch the movie. I cry more when watching movies than when reading books.

      And I am curious to see how they do it in film - there are many interesting quirks in the way the book is written that I am not sure how they would translate over to the movie. Hm...

  3. I think it's hugely awesome that we both posted these on the same days. XD Brilliant minds think alike? *hi fives*

    Obviously I agree with you 1000%. IT WAS FREAKISHLY AMAZING. I love books a lot. I do. And I have so many huge favourites, but this just gets on another list perfection. I was so emotionally caught up I couldn't put it down. I didn't exactly cry, (I never ever cry, actually) but it honestly tore my soul to BITS. I FELT LIKE I WAS CRYING INSIDE.

    1. Okay. How do you never ever cry? My DAD cries (rarely, but still).
      ...are you cyborg...?

  4. Okay. okay. okay. the Book Thief. I again, read this book before seeing the movie for that purpose alone. I have heard about it for years and just never got around to reading it.

    And it's scarred me. And I still don't want to talk about it. I'm not ready (I read it almost a year ago!!!!!) I just. MAGIC IS THE PERFECT WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS WRITING. I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING YOU SAID ABOUT IT. ugh. this book has sliced my heart. i just.

    MAXrfslkghdsglah;lghdfslkothq;s rudy ajfldasjflajflasfjla hlk ijust can't.

    and the movie. THE MOVIE. While it took some things out, because of time, it was pretty accurate from what I can remember. I just. It just added another stab of pain to my heart. I'm not ready to talk about the movie either, but if you did watch it, please let me know what you thought. I loved the casting choices. And the color scheme you described: perfection.

    Okay. I'm emotionally distraught about this so I'm going to go hold back the tears.

    1. This book is, by far, THE most emotionally provoking book I have EVER read.

      I still need to see this movie! GAH. I will definitely post about it once I watch it.


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