The Book Thief – by Marcus Zusak
If books were food, this one would be a double chocolate fudge cake: rich and delicious. There are books with great plots that are poorly or adequately written and there are books that are well written but with uninteresting plots. The best books, of course, have both complex, engaging plots and quality writing, and this is one of them.
The Book Thief is a World War II story, of which there are so many that one becomes easily jaded and over-saturated with them. However, this one is something new. The story is narrated by Death himself, who offers a fascinating new perspective on the war as well as on humankind and life in general. Death has developed his own fascination with a young girl living in Nazi Germany, and we see her story through his eyes. Liesel’s brother has just died and her mother takes her to live with a foster family in the small town of Molching. Her foster father helps her to learn to read, instilling her life with new meaning, and she begins stealing books from anywhere she can find them. Her world is turned upside down once again when her family takes in a Jewish man and hides him in their basement. Words have great power, Liesel discovers, both to destroy and to unite.
This is one of those rare books that takes a special delight in language and uses it in new ways. From the very first chapter, it is apparent that Death’s way of viewing and describing things is wholly unique. The writing style is, at points, almost more poetry than prose, full of such phrases as, “A scream will dribble down the air,” and “A bathrobe answered the door.” I knew right away that I was going to love this book. However, I think that my enjoyment of it might have been lessened if I had read it as a teenager, particularly if it was assigned reading. I tended to complain a lot in high school that all the books we read in class were depressing, and while I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to sum this book up by calling it depressing, I do think that it would have added fuel to my theory. So I suppose I should be thankful that I read this book at a point in my life when I could fully appreciate it.