Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Book Thief

Nine year old Liesel Meminger watches her younger brother die on a train as she and he are headed to their new foster home in Munich.  “How it Happened” relates Death, the narrator of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, “ [is] there was an intense spurt of coughing. Almost an inspired spurt. And soon after  - nothing.”

Liesel’s younger brother is just one of the many “souls” that Death will carry away, and Death’s fascination with Liesel comes because no one “except the girl” saw him as he “stepped through the cluttered aisle” and took her brother.

So begins Zusak’s novel set in Nazi Germany and the story of  illiterate Leisel who becomes, after the death of her brother, a thief -- of books.

Not only is Leisel a likeable and root-able character in spite of her thievery, but Death too is amazingly human.  His running commentary, like a sportscaster watching an event, comes across as both poignant and, at times, witty. 

I know. I know -- really? Yes.  Death wants the reader’s approval, and he kind of gets it.

Quite different stylistically, the work has a poetical edge, and if examined closely, could be seen as quite metaphorical -- or so it seems. I could be reading too much into it -- but stealing apples, recurrent dreams, the titles of the novels stolen by Leisel -- yeah, yeah, yeah -- once an English teacher, always an English teacher.

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