A book like no other

The Book Thief ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Markus Zusak
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery…

The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you. ~ The Book Thief

the book thiefThis book left me gutted and absolutely speechless.  It is the kind of book that we can only hope to see once or twice in a generation. And that’s if we’re lucky.

Narrating The Book Thief is Death, who confesses he is haunted by humans — our beauty, our savagery, our contradictions. I, on the other hand, will remain haunted by Liesel’s story for the rest of my life (and little Rudy Steiner). There is really no way to describe this book that will come anywhere close to doing it justice. It defies all regular categorization and usual comparisons.

There are only a handful of books that after the reading is done I want to run out and buy copies for everyone I know and plead with them to drop whatever it is they are doing and read it immediately (before they get hit by a bus or a comet smashes into the Earth) — this is one of those books. The words lyrical and profound, spiritual and uncompromising are quite often overused, to the point where we’ve rendered them almost meaningless and that’s too bad, because I want to use them here and have them mean something.

Summer came. For the book thief, everything was going nicely. For me, the sky was the color of Jews. When their bodies had finished scouring for gaps in the door, their souls rose up. When their fingernails had scratched at the wood and in some cases were nailed into it by sheer force of desperation, their spirits came toward me, into my arms, and we climbed out of those shower facilities, onto the roof and up, into eternity’s certain breadth. They just kept feeding me. Minute after minute. Shower after shower.

Zusak’s prose is staggeringly gorgeous both in its simplicity and in its complexity; his choice of words is flawless and inspired. I am humbled by such immense talent. The Book Thief is a gift for the ages, a love song to words, books, and what it means to be human.  It is a story that will steal (and break) your heart.

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