Perfect fit: The Book Thief

Every now and then you find a book that’s a perfect fit, a book that’s just right, a book that you want to re-read almost as soon as you’ve finished the last page.

For me, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was just such a book – it is easily now in my top five.

I had my suspicions from the beginning, from the cover design, the weight of the book, the font – that this was going to be a book that fit me well. This suspicion was confirmed early:

“HERE IS A SMALL FACT…You are going to die”

“I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.”

I was hooked. With this we meet the narrator of this perfect, horrifying tale; Death.

You might think that the choice of Death as storyteller would make for a terribly dark affair, but, as he says himself, he is in fact quite amiable. For this story, his omnisciences is required and his practical approach to departure is reassuring, in a pragmatic, yet moving way:

“I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A colour will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.”

Gently…

I was of course immediately endeared to Liesel and her love affair with books and words. Her resilience and resourcefulness whilst in great peril was inspiring, and her humanity and compassion was stunning. For a girl so young, Liesel showed many enviable characteristics not the least of which was her wish to not only survive, but to live – she stole books in the same way that she stole food – and for similar reasons. It was not enough for Liesel to simply feed her body, even in an environment of violence and oppression, the need to feed her appetite for words and ideas was ever present.

I should say though, that my attraction to this book was about more than just the plot. Liesel’s story is very moving, but it’s not all that makes this book so special. In my opinion, The Book Thief is as much about how the story is told, as it is about the story itself. It is poetically told, it ebbs and flows like music. It is skillful prose, and it’s quiet intensity makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Markus’ story made me shiver, cry, smile.

It was amazing to read a book that was so carefully put together, one that was so conscious of its pace and rhythm. I’ve read a lot of good stories over the last few years, but few that have been written so beautifully.

“Steadily, the room shrank, till the book thief could touch the shelves within a few small steps. She ran the back of her hand along the first shelf, listening to the shuffle of her fingernails sliding across the spinal cord of each book. It sounded liked an instrument, or the notes of running feet.”

It goes without saying, that I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.

Have you read The Book Thief? What did you think?


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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. michelle
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 23:18:39

    I could have written this post myself. : ) I love ‘The Book Thief’, too; it’s one of my favourites. It’s one of those books I lend out to people on an almost continuous basis, so the poor thing is looking fairly worse for wear. But I don’t mind; I like my books to look lived in.

    Unfortunately, ‘The Book Thief’ led me to read other books by Markus Zusak, searching to relive the feeling of that first high. Needless to say, I was disappointed. I guess it’s unfair to expect a man to write more than one masterpiece. : )

    Reply

    • That Book You Like
      Apr 11, 2012 @ 23:21:01

      Nothing quite like a well loved book is there 🙂

      That’s interesting what you say about his other books, I’ve not read any, so maybe I’d be best to lower my expectations of them a little.

      Reply

  2. booksaremyfavouriteandbest
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 00:11:00

    The Book Thief is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Interestingly, the cover DIDN’T appeal to me! It was a book group selection but as soon as I started it I couldn’t put it down. And (without spoilers) it made my cry a river!

    I read The Book Thief immediately after another fabulous book (Loving Frank by Nancy Horan) and for a while there everything I picked up was a bit ‘blah’ after two incredible books!

    Reply

  3. subtlekate
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 04:42:37

    This is on my to read list. I have a few things before it, but you’ve made me look all the more forward to it. I know just what you mean by a book being a good fit.

    Reply

  4. Kathy Petkoff
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 05:37:24

    I read ‘The Book Thief’ when I expecting my first child. A dear friend would visit us and bring me Australian wine until I got pregnant and then he bought me wonderful books (we were living in South Africa) I have loaned my copy out and it is looking well loved, I have bought copies for people as gifts and i have recommended it with my heart and soul. It made me laugh, sob and believe in the spirit of people. It is a beautiful piece. And I love that Liesel’s story fills in gaps that are so often overlooked in history. I was surprised to hear you hadn’t read it until now!

    Reply

  5. Leah
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 02:23:13

    I was given this book as a gift when I spent some time in hospital in March. It was a great gift. I was so sick of magazines that when I received it I would have read anything. And, to be honest, it’s a book that I probably wouldn’t have chosen myself but I couldn’t put it down. I really loved the way that the events of history were the backdrop to the story rather than the story themselves. Liesel’s interest and passion for reading was quite inspirational and in some ways helped me rediscover my love of a good book (which had been lost a bit with illness & looking after a baby and toddler).

    Reply

    • That Book You Like
      Jun 15, 2012 @ 02:55:20

      The historical backdrop was definitely one of the things that I really liked. It’s nice when you get a surprise with a book like that isn’t it?

      I’m so glad that you’ve rediscovered books… there’s nothing better when you’re a bit laid up!

      Reply

  6. Leah West
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 04:21:42

    I agree there’s nothing better than when you’re a bit laid up or when you’re stuck waiting for hours for specialists all the time. I enjoy waiting rooms now as long as I have my book with me!
    I’d been meaning to mention somewhere that one of the books that I finally got around to reading recently after being given it for Christmas was ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes. I can highly recommend it. My first reaction after finishing was that I need to talk about it with someone. I thought of suggesting it as a possible TBYL bookclub choice but not sure if there’s enough in it for bookclub discussion…

    Reply

  7. That Book You Like
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 07:54:48

    I know exactly what you mean about waiting rooms! I was thinking just the same thing this week… makes the hours waiting much more enjoyable.

    I hope your health is good now?

    I’ll check out ‘The Sense of an Ending’ thanks for the recommendation, always great to hear about new books.

    Reply

  8. Leah West
    Jun 16, 2012 @ 11:23:09

    I think The Sense of an Ending won the Booker prize last year so it’s pretty easy to find commentary on it.
    Thanks Mandi – health is good now. As I said, the upside to being thrust into the medical system has been extra reading time which I know from the blog you can relate to 🙂

    Reply

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