Saturday, September 08, 2007
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak.
This was one of the big titles for last fall, riding in on recommendations and reviews aplenty, so I had to read it, of course. I make it my business to try to catch a good range, and most of the big titles.
I started this, and was put off by the voice initially. I found it annoying, and the little sidenotes a bit overdone. I thought I'd give it a few chapters, though, and that feeling did pass once the story really got started and I got involved with the characters. I'm glad to find that, as I was a bit worried that I had not enjoyed this and one other of the big, high-hype books from last fall on the same theme, but for children.
So, once I got into it, I still found it heavy going. But the characters are drawn with love, and relationships between them grown carefully, the ups and downs drawn out and unravelled slowly. It is nice, but it is slow.
The story centres around a young girl being shipped to foster care just outside of Munich during the second world war. On the way, her brother dies, and she steals a book during the brief funeral. Left with these new people, she both suffers terrible nightmares and it is discovered that she cannot read. Her new papa sits patiently with her at night, keeping the dreams away, and eventually teaches her to read. As she find comfort in reading, she finds ways to gain access to books and slowly steals more of them, earning her name. During a bombing raid one night, she shares her comfort, reading to the other twenty-odd frightened souls huddled in a basement.
Also worked into this book are some other themes each capable of carrying a novel on its own. Firstly, the hiding of a lone jew in the basement, a shadow of a man who touches her deeply as the two become friends. Secondly, her own coming of age in a time of crisis, poverty, starvation. The way children carry on with the business of playing street soccer, of trying to steal a kiss, of running races and going to school and helping their family in ways that are necessary according to their times.
It is, I repeat, a heavy tome in many ways, but while I didn't absolutely love it, I stuck with it, and don't regret the three weeks it took me. It had some charming descriptive language, though it was getting a bit repetitive by page 450 or so. It had characters I cared about. It was something that could be taken in small morsels and savoured. It has things going for it, or I wouldn't have stuck it out - I long ago decided it was okay not to finish a book - but ultimately, I'm not sure I see many teens reading and enjoying it. It would have to be one who would in fact savour just those right few things, or one who was really intrigued with the time and place, perhaps.