The Book Thief

I’m very pleased to end the year with The Book Thief. I read it mixing both my reading of the novel and then listening to parts of the audiobook on some of my trips during the holidays. The audiobook is fabulous. And the writing is fantastic quality.

I caught myself several times reading and thinking that every word felt like Zusak slaved over it. It seems that every word is in the perfect place. But while the writing is fantastic, I can’t say that the story is completely enthralling. I really think I’m more interested in the way the story is told rather than the actual story.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is moving, and it’s fascinating to be immersed in German culture during this period. What’s mostly fascinating is how normal it feels.

But let’s not get carried away! First striking fact of the novel is the narrator: Death — and what an incredible narrator he(?) is. We get a lot of insight into how death is and how death works. Like he mentions several times, this was a very active time in history. What becomes most obvious is Death’s fascination with humans — and it’s in the annuals of death that we find the beauty of life.

My favorite passage comes near the end, but really frames the story at work: “A human doesn’t have a heart like mine. *The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle,* and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing I evny. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die” (491).

Liesel’s story is both linear and circular. It is linear in that it is finite, i.e. it ends. But it is also circular because Death has the power to retell the story … to make Liesel live again. But the story is also circular because death starts telling the story at its ending, really takes us to the beginning, and brings us back to the end. That’s the true magic of Zusak’s novel.

One of the beautiful aspects of the novel is Liesel’s fixation with words and books. I love that her character development in turns comes from her development as a reader and subsequently as a writer. But her relationship to books is two-fold. First, she reads seemingly normal books. I suppose it makes sense that she wasn’t reading any of the known “classic” literature that most of us are familiar. There’s nothing standout — but these books still matter and make an impression on her. They are her victories.

Secondly, I like the significance that each book has to her life. That’s part of what /The Last Passage/ is for me — to help me remember the significance of the books I’ve read to my own life — where I was in my own journey while I have encountered other stories along the way. For instance, my heart swelled and ached as Liesel worked and struggled to get through The Gravedigger’s Handbook because it was tied to her mother and brother. It was the last link to her life before living with the Hubermanns.

But again, I return to my first point. I don’t know that the story (the linear part) mattered so much to me. I enjoyed Hans and Rosa’s parenting, the friendship of Rudy, and the company of Max. I think Liesel made an interesting choice for the main character. She was fragile enough, but also brave enough to steal books and to care for a Jew.

Overall, I think The Book Thief was a beautiful and moving story. I would encourage everyone to check out the audiobook too. Allan Corduner embodies the voice of Death so completely. I usually don’t think about the voice of the narrator when I’m reading silently, but I found myself reading in Corduner’s voice when switching back to the novel after listening to a stint of the audiobook.

Fantastic and well worth your time.

Favorite Passages in The Book Thief

Within minutes, mounds of concrete and earth were stacked and piled. The streets were ruptured veins. Blood streamed till it was dried on the road, and the bodies were stuck there, like driftwood after the flood. They were glued down, every last one of them. A packet of souls. Was it fate? Misfortune? Is taht what glued them down like that? Of course not. Let’s not be stupid. It probably had something to do with the hurled bombs, thrown down by humans hiding in the clouds. (12)

If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story. I’ll show you something. (16)

Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain. (80)

It’s much easier, she realized, to be on the verge of something than to actually be it. (87)

To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boos, however, does not thank you. He asks for more. (309)

God. I always say that name when I think of it. God. Twice, I speak it. I say His name in a futile attempt to understand. “But it’s not your job to understand.” That’s me who answers. God never says anything. You think you’re the only one he never answers? (350)

It kills me sometimes, how people die. (464)

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. (528)

I can promise you that the world is a factory. The sun stirs it, the humans rule it. And I remain. I carry them away. (543)

A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR: I am haunted by humans. (550)