I am going to go ahead and put this on the list of my best books of the year. It is going to go right up there with The Help and Bel Canto. How do I know this is worthy of that title? To me, books that are really spectacular are the ones that somehow make an impact on you life. Books that you can't stop thinking about months later. Books that teach you things that you retain. Books that change the way you act on a daily basis. And now, I will tell you why this book is all these things...
The Book Thief was published in 2005 and is written by Australian author Markus Zusak. It is set in Nazi Germany, but instead of that same old tale of a Jewish man or woman struggling against the Nazi's (not that these aren't important stories), this book takes WWII and spins it on it's head. It put you right in the action, starting in 1938, with an unconventional German family who struggle with how to react to a war they do not agree with. Leisel Meminger is the main character, she is followed by the narrator, who interestingly is some version of the grim reaper, and she soon becomes what he, almost lovingly, refers to her as "the book thief". She is brought to the Hubermann home as a foster child after her Communist mother drops her off and runs away. From there the book chronicles her life with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her relationship with a German boy with hair the colour of straw, and a hidden Jewish fist-fighter along the way.
AND THAT, is all I am going to tell you about the plot.
What I will tell you is that this book is absolutely riveting. It is considered by some to be a children's book, more like a young adult read I would say, but still, this is really a book that anyone would enjoy. Markus Zusak takes literary conventions and completely turns them on their head. The most interesting part of this book is that the narrator, or Death, is constantly foreshadowing actions to come or he will just outright tell you what is going to happen before it happens. It is a very unconventional way to write, and it may seem, by just reading this, that it would be confusing... it isn't. Everything is very clear and concise, and at the end of the day once he tells you what is going to happen you cannot help but keep reading long into the night to find out HOW it happens. This is pretty genius I think. It keeps the read moving flawlessly forward, and at the same time the reader is constantly engaged and excited about what will come next.
The second thing that makes this books on of the best on the list yet is poetics. This book is by all standards written like a novel, but the narration is so smooth and often extremely poetic that is helps the reader to reflect on what has happened, and what you know is coming. Whoever thought Death could be to expressive (and I mean Death the narrator, not death itself). Here are a selection of my favourite quotes without giving too much away:
“Upon her arrival, you could still see the bite marks of snow on her hands and the frosty blood on her fingers. Everything about her was undernourished. Wirelike shins. Coat hanger arms. She did not produce it easily, but when it came, she had a starving smile.” pg. 31
"I am haunted by Humans."
"I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right." pg 528
I can elaborate more later, but what I will say is... go out and get this book. Read it, learn from it, and let it take over, because you really can get lost in the world of Death and Leisel Meminger.