Books: The Book Thief

>> Friday, February 9, 2007

Yes, I'm the one who's had Markus Zusak's The Book Thief on the "What We're Reading" LibraryThing feature to the right for more than a month. Part of my defense is that The Book Thief is a long novel, clocking in at 552 pages. And while I'm not afraid of long books, I am, as I prefer to call it, a "deliberate" reader. (Okay, "slow.") But I was even slower than usual this time, as I spent many of my evenings writing and not reading, as I had back in the halcyon days of 2006. (Ah yes, those were the days.)

The Book Thief is the story of a German girl named Liesel growing up in Nazi Germany. Her story is wrapped up in those of her foster parents Rosa and Hans Hubermann, her next door neighbor and possible love interest Rudy Steiner, Jewish escapee Max Vandenburg, and the mysterious wife of the town's mayor. Liesel is the book thief of the title, as over the course of a few years she acquires quite a collection of books that don't belong to her. The most important book in her collection, however, is the one she writes herself, the one which recounts her life, and the one which the narrator, Death, comes to possess and treasure.

Many people, myself included, had The Book Thief pegged as this year's Printz Award winner. It ended up taking home a Printz Honor, with American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang beating it out for the top prize. The Book Thief is certainly deserving of a Printz Award of some kind, and I was glad to see it among the winners.

Wendi read or heard somewhere that Zusak, the author of Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl, and the very well-reviewed I am the Messenger, set out to deliberately outdo himself as a writer with The Book Thief. It shows. Almost no sentence in The Book Thief is a throw-away; at every turn Zusak tries to be clever or ironic or poetic, often times trying to do all three at once. The result is a bit wearying by the end, and toward the last two hundred pages or so I once or twice found myself reading a sentence and having absolutely no idea what he was trying to say.

That said, The Book Thief is a beautiful and tragic story, and I cried a few times toward the end. It certainly establishes Zusak as one of the pre-eminent storytellers in today's young adult market.


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