Author: Markus Zusak
Set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death, The Book Thief is a departure from the ordinary.
At first brush, the idea of narration by Death seems strikingly morbid. Instead, by taking the narration out of humanity, Zusak is able to create a blunt, direct, yet detached perspective… the view of a player who is not a participant; who has nothing to gain or lose. The human stories, individual human perspectives of desperation, cruelty, failure, triumph, love, and devastation that swirl around World War II are as “colors”: an abstraction, a detachment that makes this book palatable; gnawing but not haunting. Throughout the book, the narrator warns, and in some cases, explicitly tells the reader of events to come – like watching a sad movie: knowing the ending softens the emotional blow.
It is the story of a girl, a boy, an old man, a young man, a father, a mother, an orphan, a friend, a fighter, a people, a nation, a species, a world.
I am conflicted about this book. In one sense, it is excellent Young Adult fiction: serious subject matter, treated in a way that will not cause children to have nightmares. However, to gain the previous accomplishment, the emotional heft of the topic is necessarily reduced. Zusak makes no false representations: the facts stick and Death (our narrator) is everywhere. But the style does not invoke empathy…we are merely spectators – watching the people grieve, watching the people die, watching the people kill, as a child observing an ant farm. The people are not us. We are not grieving, dying, or killing along with them. A light touch from a heavy object.
Will I buy it: Probably
New Favorite: No