Oh Liesel! Feelings!

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Somewhere in all the snow, she could see her broken heart, in two pieces. Each half was glowing, and beating under all that white.

It is a struggle to do this book justice.

At first I thought the writing style was awful because it didn’t flow. Every time I was getting into the story, there would be a little quote, or the narrator would interrupt or just change what the story was about completely. But now I’ve finished and have realised what a genius book this is I think I understand why it is written the way it is:

  1. Death: He says his heart is a circle, whereas the human heart is linear. He is everywhere all at once and sees everyone at their best and worst, usually interpreting things afterwards. The story is told from his perspective and in hindsight, so it takes into account all that he has seen.
  2. Words: This book is all about the transforming power of words. It is not a new argument of course, but Zusak takes the line that Hitler rose to power because of his words. And so Liesel’s affair with books, the time spent by her father teaching her to write, the books made by Max etc etc, these all add up to rebelling / reclaiming words.
  3. Storytelling: The characters in The Book Thief tell a lot of stories. But a lot of this is focused on when it is the right time to tell people certain things. This very considered focus on language and storytelling is reflected in the structure of the book – things don’t have to happen chronologically, because there is a right time to be told things. The book deserves to be read with a sense of foreboding and an awareness that death will have met all the characters by the end of the book.

The best thing about this book, for me, was how human it is. Perhaps Death is the perfect narrator for this story because he is looking at humans from the outside and can make us think objectively about how we have done such things. The first time Liesel watches the Jewish people paraded on the way to Dachau I was reading with a horrible weight on me; a sense of claustrophobia and futility because I couldn’t work out what anyone could have realistically done to save anyone. And that thought helps me to see that history could so easily repeat itself if people do not remember and try to understand.

“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

The Book Thief