Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Book Thief

As promised, here are my comments on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I finished reading earlier this week.

The Book Thief is an ambitious book, with 550 pages of text, and is considered a YA (young adult or teen) novel. It is the story of Liesel, a young girl living with poor foster parents in a small town near Munich, during World War 2. Liesel's foster parents, who are not supporters of the Nazi regime, hide a Jewish man, Max, in their basement for several years. During the course of the story, Liesel collects stolen books and reads them to Max and to other community members as they huddle in basement shelters to escape the bombs. It is really a story about the power of words and books, and how they can be used for either good or evil. 

The narrator of the novel is Death, a character who follows Liesel's story as she ages from 9 to 14 years old.

My new book group discussed The Book Thief on Tuesday night and we were firmly divided into two camps. Half of the group loved the book and found it inspirational and beautifully written. The other half (me included) found it disturbing and dark. My reasons for finding it so, had to do with Death's voice, which often took a flippant tone in its descriptions of tragic events, set against the horrifying backdrop of the Holocaust. 

I think the author may have been using Death's voice to provide some distance from the horror — but in my mind, it made the painful experiences even more difficult. I didn't want to feel distant from the characters.

I know I'm in the minority with my opinion, judging from the glowing reviews and award nominations this book has received. It is narratively and stylistically very clever, but, for me, a troubling read. 

It was, however, a great title to discuss with the book group, most of whom are YA authors. They had a clear understanding of how challenging it would have been to write this book, and it was most interesting to hear them speak. 

If you'd like to read along with us, our next book for discussion is Life is Funny by E.R. Frank.

I'll sign off for now, but tomorrow will comment on The 100 Mile Diet — the other book I've just finished reading.


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