The Book Thief

This weekend I finished The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, and I think many of you would like it. In Barnes & Noble, at least, it’s sold in the juvenile section, which makes little sense to me, except that the main character is a young girl living in Nazi Germany. It’s a very sad and very lovely story, narrated by Death, who doesn’t come across nearly so cold as we make him out to be. Here’s an excerpt from the first few pages:

The book thief and her brother were traveling down toward Munich, where they would soon be given over to foster parents. We now know, of course, that the boy didn’t make it. . .

When the coughing stopped, there was nothing but the nothingness of life moving on with a shuffle, or a near-silent twitch. A suddenness found its way onto his lips then, which were a corroded brown color and peeling, like old paint. In desperate need of redoing.

Their mother was asleep.

I entered the train.

My feet stepped through the cluttered aisle and my palm was over his mouth in an instant.

No one noticed.

The train galloped on.

Except the girl. . . she caught me out, no doubt about it. It was exactly when I knelt down and extracted his soul, holding it limply in my swollen arms. He warmed up soon after, but when I picked him up originally, the boy’s spirit was soft and cold, like ice cream. He started melting in my arms. Then warming up completely. Healing.

For Liesel Meminger, there was the imprisoned stiffness of movement and the staggered onslaught of thoughts. Es stimmt nicht. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.

And the shaking.

Why do they always shake them?

Yes, I know, I know, I assume it has something to do with instinct. To stem the flow of truth. Her heart at that point was slippery and hot, and loud, so loud, so loud.

Why would anyone want to read a sad story? Consider it your portion of joyful sorrow, the joy coming from the sweetness of the tale. Because sometimes death can have a sweet side to him, believe it or not. Most of the characters here have a sweetness to them, and brittleness as well, just like you and me. I think that’s a sign of good writing, when someone can craft a character who is flawed and at times despicable, and yet we love him anyway. It gives me hope for myself, and you as well, for that matter. So go buy the book, and have a smile and a cry. They’re both good for you, after all.

Comments

  1. mdmhvonpa

    “In Barnes & Noble, at least, it’s sold in the juvenile section”

    I do not believe that I am entirely prepared to teach my little gems about death yet … not quite yet. I would like for their innocence to go on forever; when the time comes I hope to be ready.

  2. Ruth H

    When my mother was ill and dying she said some remarkable things. At one point she was shivering, she had been very cold to the touch for many days, I asked her if she were cold and she replied: “No, God is giving me new life.” She closed her eyes to rest again and I did not pursue the answer, but I can tell you all of my siblings, seven of us, and our children who were with her at all times, not all at the same time, have said she taught us how to die.
    What better gift to give your children?

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