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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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Jan 05, 10

bookshelves: could-not-put-down, great-writing
Read in October, 2009

The Book Thief stole my attention and it will steal yours, too.

How to tell a story when we all know how it ends? That is the dilemma faced when offering up yet another Holocaust novel – no matter how cleverly constructed. Zusak succeeds with The Book Thief precisely because he attacks this seemingly fatal barricade head on and emerges victorious. How? He employs Death as a wistful narrator. A storyteller who knows how, when, and where all of our stories end. Though I have read some other reviewers complain that the continual foreknowledge offered by Death was distracting, it is the only sensible approach to telling what is the last century’s best-known story: Most Germans will go along with killing the Jews, some will rebel and suffer for it, a few will succeed in resisting Nazi conformity temporarily at best. In the end, we all die.

Or do we? That’s the beauty of this story, for it telegraphs our eventual demise so clearly that some significant characters in the book manage to escape Death’s grasp when we are least prepared for it. And for a moment, among the ashes, the mass graves, and the utter loss of humanity so achingly rendered, we take solace in the small relief their temporary survival affords.

Aside from this brave and successful choice of narrator, the book succeeds in its implausible tale by making each character as gritty and real as the dirt streets they walked. You can see the lemon hair, your stomach growls with sympathetic perpetual hunger, and you cheer on a wannabe Jesse Owens. You come to love the mayor’s wife while continually longing for her redemption; when it comes you are reprieved. And in time, you will lament that you will never hear the earthy Rosa Hubermann mutter another Saukerl under her breath.

Thank you, Zusak for taking me to Death’s door and letting me find comfort in what He shows me there.
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Petra Xtra Crunchy I keep meaning to read The Book Thief but it sells before I get a chance. The Forger by Cioma Schönhaus is a very different Holocaust story, the ending isn't the expected one either.


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