The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This story is filled with a tremendous amount of dark beauty. To read it, and to pore over the characters, is to be transcribed with the indelible marks of Markus Zusak’s words.
His incredible undertaking is not accomplished, but exceeded, as he takes on the challenge of narrating a story through Death. And at at time like the second World War, Death is a very busy character. To empathize with him, and to paint him with a personality is not only a courageous feat, but a curiously difficult one. Yet, by the end, I felt drawn to this character, I wanted to see more of his perspective. It is brutally honest, but as Zusak taught me: there is comfort in facing the brutish truths of our reality, and letting them get situated with the rest of your perspective.
The story that Death narrates is that of The Book Thief, Liesel Meminger, whose life is situated in the impoverished Himmel Street with two German, foster parents. Where there is joy or grace in this story, there is a contrasting darkness. It is not the most difficult conundrum, to wonder how the story quickly becomes a tale not of childhood wonder but of sorrow, when Liesel’s foster parents find themselves hiding a Jew in their home.
But what is remarkable with Zusak’s The Book Thief is that the story’s weight is not carried by the repercussions of holding a Jew, being punished by Nazis, or suffering the typical consequences you might expect. It is the relationship between the characters, the bonds they form and the suffering they endure as a result of those incredible connections, that give this story so much substance. You get to watch the best and worst of humanity.
To watch those connections wave, degrade, build up and fade, that is the story he tells. He makes no qualms of telling you the ending before the story has even began, in fact, Zusak does so, just to show you how much more meaningful it is to focus on seeing it all play out.
It is a difficult thing to get through this book without crying at least once.
It is equally difficult to get through it without laughing, or feeling the stubborn urge to reread some lines, dialogues, and paragraphs, because of their wisdom. When you stumble across them, you won’t want to forget them. You’ll want to pick them up and carry them with you for a long time.
When I meet Death, I hope it is Markus Zusak’s.