Review No.98 – The Book Thief

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Picador, 2006

It begins in the snow, beside a grave, when a little girl finds The Gravedigger’s Handbook lying forgotten on the ground. Like a talisman she takes it with her to her new life. Adopted by the ferocious, whip-tongued Rosa and her quiet, accordian-playing husband Hans, learning the rules in a rapidly evolving world and discovering for herself when they must be broken, she becomes a thief of words. Her name is Liesel Meminger. This is Germany, 1939. And Death is desperate for a distraction.

Deeply compassionate, The Book Thief is also immensely bleak, made worse by the fact that the author reveals the grimmest parts of the book well in advance, creating a mood of dread that’s sort of overkill when the setting is Nazi Germany. Zusak also has very slow pacing and an odd use of metaphor that sometimes made me stumble, particularly in the first half. The concept of using Death as a narrator is inspired and the human characters are very skilfully drawn, but it’s a hard and heavy read that is not to be entered into lightly.

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