I have to say, telling a story set in Nazi Germany from the point of view of death is pretty ingenious. I didn’t know that before I started — it took me a moment to realize who exactly the narrator was — and it almost turned me off to the book because, honestly, a book about Nazi Germany from death’s point of view is morbid, twisted, and…ingenious.
But death isn’t who we assume him to be. As he interjects in a small piece of truth:
“I do not carry a sickle or scythe. I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold. And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.” (pg. 307)
Instead, Zusak’s death takes notice of colors; for example, when thousands of Jews die, Death sees a murky grey sky with splotches of footprints in the sky. It’s through his description of these murky, dark colors that invokes a darkened, muted tone for the entirety of the novel.
“People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me its quite clear that a day manages through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.” (pg. 4)
And Zusak’s death doesn’t enjoy war like you would assume, which makes the narrator appear all the more human.
“They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over you shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.” (pg. 309)
But, if you noticed, I wasn’t all that enthralled with the story of the book thief, Liesel. I loved her interaction with Max, particularly the handwritten book Max gave the book thief for her birthday. Their interactions are so simply, but haunt you after you’ve turned the page. But there were still several moments when I just wanted the story to hurry up, and there were times that Zusak/death over foreshadow sometimes death, which broke up the flow of the novel.
Still, this is a lovely book that kept me reading, despite taking me a while to get into it. It was definitely worth the time and the step outside of the ordinary.
I thought I would take a moment to comment on something that Rebecca brought up in her review: whether or not this should qualify for young adult fiction. Honestly, since I fall into that category according to Wikipedia, this would be perfectly acceptable for anyone 13+. Yes, there is some crude language — although it is in German — but there is no sex and the language didn’t stick out to me like some books. Trust me, walk down any high school in America and you’ll hear worse language than in The Book Thief, and, if anything, it’ll get them to pay more attention to the subject manner.
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- Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print. 550 pgs. ISBN: 9780375831003. Source: Library.