“I am haunted by humans.”
The speaker is Death, the ethereal being that travels the world collecting up the souls of dying humans. This one line almost summarizes the hauntingly beautiful story of The Book Thief, a novel by Markus Zusak, the next book on my reading list. This is the only book where I broke my resolution and halfway through I checked the ending to see if my favourite characters survives. Yes, this book shows deaths, losses, perhaps one too many. But, that’s what war does? It invites Death to dance. But is Death as cruel as we perceive him to be or he has a ‘heart’ too?
The book that moved me beyond words, this tearjerker, is not one of your leisure read. This is a tough story told about a horrendous time. So there is grief, sorrow, and death. But, above all, it celebrates human relationships, a good friend, a tender father, a Jewish refugee in the basement, a foul-mouthed mother whose harshness is only a facade, and a traumatized mayor’s wife who loves to have her books stolen.
Set during World War II, the book is about a young girl Liesel living with her foster parents. This is her story through horrors afflicted that is hard to survive. But survive she does, grittily and even poetically. The literature is abundant with war stories especially about world war II, the Nazi invasion and the plight of the Jews. So what makes this story so special?
First, the narrator. The story is told from the perspective of solemn Death. Death gives the novel a sincere insight into the impact that war has upon society, allowing readers a glimpse into the horrors that war can inflict upon men, women and children. Here Death is a weary and cynical character with the relatively menial duty of carrying away the souls of the recently deceased. The participation of Death as the narrator is a unique plot device. As narrator, Death employs the technique of foreshadowing throughout the novel to reveal, among other things, the fates. Yet it doesn’t take away the charm of reading.
“The greatest sorrow is not death, but the death of our loved ones”
“You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.” – Death
Then there is Liesel’s romance with words, exploration of youth and Liesel’s coming-of-age narrative, which offers a substantial reprieve from the war-focused story. Along the way to her new home with her younger brother, he dies; after the funeral, Liesel steals The Gravedigger’s Handbook, though she cannot yet read. And starts the journey of the book thief. Books are seditious. Words have power – words that make and words that break.
“I have loved words, and I have hated them, and I hope I have made them right.” – Liesel
Another thing that makes it different is that the book is that it showed the lives of average Germans during the war. That’s not a perspective I’ve seen in any other book.
Then the part that touched me as I could relate much to the current time, the story shows the power of propaganda and how false hero worship leads to the downfall of thriving citizens.
The author uses several literary devices. And one of those is the omnipresence of the antagonist, the Führer (leader) of Nazi Germany Hitler never physically appears in the story, but he stands as a symbol for all the evil caused by the Nazis and the War. His book Mein Kampf plays a major role in the plot.
And finally, though this book deals with the bleak subject of war traumas, it effortlessly deflects to other central plot points, including the relationships between the children on Himmel Street, the tense relationship that Liesel shares with her foster mother or Liesel’s infatuation with words and stories. By doing this, a happy medium is created between a dark, tormented horror story and the readers feel for each character.
It is one of those books which is to be felt and experienced and read. ( and shed tears) From the poetic language to the raw emotions, this book is innovative, imaginative and inspiring. The only drawback might be its slow pace, but it is one of those books where words are celebrated, each word is to be devoured and a fast pace would lose its charm.
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