Monday, April 20, 2009
The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak
I can now add a few more swear words to my vocabulary - all in German. If you have to swear, you ought to do it in German. More "s" and "k" sounds, and no one can mistake your intention when you use them. Holy Cow. AND the book received a Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature by the American Library Association. I liked the book, but parents be warned, read this WITH your teens so you can consequent them when they let out a German swear word.
The narrator is DEATH. Yes, an overworked, never-paid, invisible-to-most kind of guy that has the most, well one of the most, depressing jobs in the world. And he has to work overtime during war. This particular war is World War II. Like anyone in a very demanding and draining job, Death looks for the bright spots in his career. He usually doesn't want to get too emotionally involved, so he focuses on the colors of the sky at each stop. However, he does notice some people and he collects their stories as he encounters them again and again. The book thief, Liesl, is one of them.
Death tells the story of Liesl, a German foster child, and flash forwards to the moment of death of the figures in her life. This jumping around is a little disconcerting at first, but the guy is immortal right? Time is there but it's fluid enough he looks forward and back constantly. Through the eyes of Death, we see the demise of her younger brother, the disappearance of her biological mother, a fallen soldier, and the efforts to keep an ill Jew alive just one more day while staying out of the notice of the Nazi party. We watch Liesl with Death as her street is bombed into near oblivion and he takes her foster family and her best friend.
All through the book the reader is reminded how temporary life is, how fleeting those hours when we are suffering, waiting for something, or distracting ourselves with the business of ordinary days. It's a little heartbreaking to watch Liesl struggle to trust and love her new family, to observe her friendship with Rudy, the boy next door, knowing that he won't be in her life for very long, and it's mesmerizing how Liesl's fostermother is such a foul-mouthed shrew and yet the love that is under all that profanity is plain to see.
A good read. Just make sure you read it before your kids do. Check out Markus Zusak's at randomhouse here.