Book Review: The Book Thief

” I am haunted by humans”.        images

The ending of the The Book Thief is as true and impacting as it can be.

The Book Thief is a true masterpiece of a work by Markus Zusak, a work in which Death has a story to tell. And what a touching story he has and how beautifully he narrates it.   No, don’t infer that the book is about death and horror.  It is much more than that, it has a beautiful story, woven around a girl and an equally good narration in the backdrop of Hitler’s Germany.

The Story and the Scope: Set in the reign of Hitler, in a town of Germany, the story is about a girl, Leisel, her family and friend. The story is about the harsh realities, about the parental love, about the friendship, about the selflessness and selfishness, about the rich and the poor, about the war and yes it is about the death too.  Full marks to the author for brilliantly depicting the relationships, especially for the adorable depiction of Leisel’s cordial relationship with her father, I almost felt like it is the depiction of the my relationship with my daughter.  The condition of the Jews and the treatment met to them under the Hitler’s regime is also profoundly presented.

The Presentation and Organization: Wow!! Delightful!! Unique!! The presentation is simply superlative. With death as the narrator, the tone of the story changes multiple shades – with death being incisive at times, humorous at some places and sarcastic at some other times. Very peculiar to this book, the author presents the by-product thoughts (if that is the term I can use for all the secondary thoughts which flow in mind while focus is on primary thoughts) in the form of intervention notes, right in the middle of the page and these notes actually add lot of value to the story.  The book is organized into 10 chapters with several  small sub chapters under each.  Such kind of organization tempts reader in to reading those extra few chapters which usually would be postponed to the next seating.

The Flow of plot: On this front too, Zusak is brilliant. No amount of organized approach would help if the plot does not evolve smoothly.  At no point in time, author has lost the grip on the plot.  The flashbacks and the flash-forwards (Oh, this is another unique attribute, the author has flash-forwarded the story on few occasions and reveled the secrets when least expected, and then he merrily returns the story to its present) never looks out of story and are well timed.

The Characters: As a reader, I found it very easy to connect with the characters as most of them are real. Apart from the narrator and Leisel, there are several interesting characters.  There is Leisel’s friend Rudy, who thinks himself to be Jesse Owen, has habit of poking nose in others affairs and ending up in trouble. Leisel’s mother is temperamental, practical and has habit of using slang as every other word. Leisel’s father is a simple man who plays an amateur accordion and for Leisel there is no one who can play the accordion better than him.  There is Jewish fist fighter, Max, who gets shelter in the house of Leisel and with whom Leisel develops and indescribable attachment.  Of course,  through Max, the author despises everything for which Hitler stands for, and he is quite successful in evoking hatred towards Hitler.

The Language: The language used is such that the tones adopted by the narrator hits like an arrow.   The author is at his best when he writes about Hitler and when he describes the Death’s point of view about his job.  The realities of day to day life are also crisply described.

This is how narrator flash-forwards the story:  “Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story.”

Some crisp statements:

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

“Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness. “
“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.”

“A small fact:
You are going to die….does this worry you?”

“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skills is their capacity to escalate.

And Death’s statement on his job:
“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Leisel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers…She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on…”

“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.”

More Review:

Books for beginners (Non Fiction):

Books for beginners (Fiction):


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