I managed to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in time for book group, although I have to admit it was pretty close, with me sat on the tube reading with a tear in my eye on the way to the restaurant!
I don’t think it’s really giving much away to say that this is a moving novel. Narrated by Death, the story, set during WWII follows a little girl called Liesel, who is taken under the wing of foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann in a German village following the death of her little brother. It is implied that her Mother, a communist has been taken to a concentration camp. The story follows Liesel from her induction into book-thievery, her new life in the village and her relationship with her indomitable friend Rudy, through to the difficult experience of hiding a Jewish refugee in their basement.
I felt that the device of using Death as narrator was an original idea, and a good way to develop a birds-eye view on the situation, however I found the way in which he was given such a ‘human’ perspective a little implausible. I also didn’t feel that the characters were particularly complex, with traditional Nazi ‘baddies’ and the endearing grumpy but ultimately ‘good’ Rosa Hubermann. I almost had the sense that the book was written with a film in mind (particularly the relationship between Rudy and Liesel), as it was quite cinematic in content. The upside of this was that the the story itself was a joy to read – engaging, beautifully written and with charming characters. The highlight of this novel for me was the personalities described by Zusak and the warmth that he was able to develop between different characters. Liesel herself was beautifully described and her friendship with Rudy was completely enchanting. Although I felt it wasn’t quite gritty enough (WWII ‘lite’?), I enjoyed reading from an alternative perspective on this period of history. Overall this was a wonderful read, and reminded me of stories that my own grandmother used to tell me about her experiences during the war.
Another reason why I enjoyed The Book Thief was because it was a fantastic distraction from the horrible flu that I had that week! And even better, in my sorry state, I had the pleasure of having a few chapters read to me in bed by my indulgent boyfriend which was really quite wonderful. It’s quite special to have something read out loud to you for two reasons. Firstly, you experience the story in a different way than you would reading it in your head – I found that the way that my boyfriend read it brought out the humour in the novel because the form of the sentences and style comes through more clearly. Secondly, being read to is great because it makes you feel cared for and is a sweetly intimate experience reminiscent of more innocent days. I have also enjoyed having first chapters of favourite novels read to me by friends (Perfume, by Patrick Suskind) which is a great way to be introduced to novels that like minded people are passionate about. Whether it’s a loving partner, a good friend or a reader at a book group, I thoroughly recommend seeking out an opportunity to hear stories being read out loud.