Posted by: Nathan | March 17, 2010

The Book Thief is Captivating

It isn’t easy to write a novel set in Nazi Germany that reads entirely fresh. Upon finding out that The Book Thief features a German family harboring a runaway Jew and the Allied bombing of Munich, perhaps one would hesitate to open its cover. Don’t fear clichés here, reader. Markus Zusak’s book is a standout.

The characters in this novel are all well conceived and complex. Liesel, the protagonist, is soft-hearted but tough and willingly steals from strangers, as does her friend Rudy who also dresses as Jesse Owens (complete with blackened skin). Papa is a quiet and loving man who quietly resists the Nazis, while Mama’s verbal abuse almost disguises her strong heart. My favorite character, though, is Death, who narrates this book. Banish your preconceptions about who Death is and trust Zusak; his Grim Reaper is unrelenting but also caring. He executes his job (pun intended) despite his wishes.

The prose is fluid and enticing. You are drawn into the world of the book effortlessly, and you are immediately invested. Death paints the story in colors both bright and faded. Zusak uses foreshadowing effectively and interestingly to keep the pages turning because of and in spite of what you know. At times the author chops up his text a bit too much for me; I rarely enjoy sentence fragments. However, the vibrant story always compels.

Although some typical World War II tropes appear in these pages, there are many new elements, too. It was enjoyable to be able to cheer for a German family during WWII. They hide Max, a Jew, in their basement, and he rewards them (and the reader) with wonderful tales and illustrations. If the ending is a bit predictable, the experience is stirring and delightful. I highly recommend.  ★★★★ 1/2

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