If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story. I’ll show you something.
Who could resist such an enchanting invitation? Come along for the ride, and you’ll be richly rewarded.
The Second World War and the Holocaust are well worn subjects, but Zusak offers an unusual angle. His words tumble from the pages to explore the opposing traits of humanity: the brutality and cruelty of humans at war on the one hand, and the beauty of friendship and kindness on the other.
Central to the novel’s structure is the quirky narrator; Zusak uses Death to tell the tale. Death is the mystical being that carries away the souls of the dead, and so is everywhere and all seeing, making for a great narrator who can let the reader in on many situations, locations and events. Death is a cynical and somewhat sarcastic character at times, but is never portrayed as a scythe-wielding black-cloaked grim reaper. Instead, Death is sensitive and saddened at human’s capacity to cause grief. The plight of dead souls and the sorrow of loved ones left behind anguishes Death to distraction.
“I am haunted by humans” are Death’s parting words. Like the reader, Death is no more at ease with humanity’s teetering balance of wickedness and altruism at the end of the novel than at the beginning. While Zusak’s take on Death is highly imaginative and intricately woven into the story, it has also been criticised for being unrealistic and overly abstract.
Zusak’s writing style is nothing short of enchanting, and his prose almost poetic. Imaginative and original metaphors give the story a richness and style that Zusak has made his own. Whole paragraphs are made up of only two words for unmistakeable clarity, and horrific details are delivered in quiet yet punchy lines: “For me, the sky was the colour of Jews,” Death tells us frankly. This is a novel that’s honest and candid without being gory or morbid. Harrowing scenes and difficult issues are laid out using symbolism and thought-provoking descriptions, echoing the childlike innocence of the title character, Liesel.
Zusak uses the technique of foreshadowing in The Book Thief, and Death veers from hinting at events to revealing the most important parts of the story before they have happened. From the beginning of the book we know that the street Liesel lives on is bombed, and we soon find out that Rudy dies prematurely, and that the Hubermanns' eldest son is killed at Stalingrad. Zusak cleverly uses this tool to grab attention, move the story on and remind readers that no matter what the characters do the outcome is unchangeable, thanks to the dreadful power of war to determine the fate of a nation.
Zusak’s writing has been judged by some critics to be lengthy, fussy and slow to move the story forward. Yet it is packed with striking commentary, beautifully crafted sentences, authentic and gutsy characters and heart-wrenching imagery. Each of its 554 pages is a pleasure to absorb.
At the very least, anyone who’s ever had a love affair with books will fall in love with this one.
"A novel of breath-taking scope, masterfully told." THE GUARDIAN
"The Book Thief is unsettling and unsentimental, yet ultimately poetic." USA TODAY
"Elegant, philosophical and moving...Beautiful and important." KIRKUS REVIEW
"This hefty volume is an achievement...a challenging book in both lengthand subject..." PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY
"An extraordinary narrative." SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL