Once upon a time long, long ago (when we lived in Sydney) I worked with a lovely lady named Sally. Sally often spoke of the books she had been reading and when I bemoaned the fact I hadn’t read anything in ages, she encouraged me to get back into it and suggested books she thought I might enjoy. I trusted Sally’s opinion and knew that if she enjoyed them, I most probably would too, but for whatever reason I just wasn’t in a reading state of mind. I think during the entire two years we lived in Sydney all I managed to read was Wuthering Heights and a few Charlaine Harris books! Quite sad really.
Even though I didn’t read them then and there, I did make a mental note of the books Sally suggested. One that always stuck out in my memory was The Book Thief. Sally had recommended it a few times. After we left Sydney and I started reading a little more, every now and then I’d think of The Book Thief, yet somehow still never managed to get to it. Then in April this year I was looking for a present for my mum’s birthday, wandering about a book shop in Bendigo stroking all the lovely spines and drinking in that gorgeous book smell, when I saw it. The Book Thief. That’s what I’d get my mum! Sally said it was good, so it must be.
A few months later I asked mum if she had read it and she told me she hadn’t. Then earlier this month we were watching First Tuesday Book Club’s 10 Aussie Books to Read before you Die special and there it was again. It came second on the list. “Oh The Book Thief!” I said. “Did you ever get around to reading it it?” Mum then confessed she had tried but hadn’t been able to get into it, so had given up. Suddenly overcome with curiosity I decided the time had finally come. It simply needed to be read. I started that night.
I have to admit I struggled with the unconventional style in the first couple of chapters of The Book Thief (and sometimes the narrator’s little asides bothered me, even at the end) but if the people of Australia loved it and (more importantly) if Sally loved it, I figured it had to be worth sticking with. And gosh, I’m so glad I did! The Book Thief is the most moving book I’ve read in quite some time and I know it’s going to stay with me for years to come.
The story, narrated by death, and set in Nazi Germany follows the story of a young girl named Liesel. “It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery….”
If you need a happy ending The Book Thief probably isn’t for you. The characters are endearingly flawed, human and real. You desperately want everything to be ok for everyone but of course, this is Nazi Germany. How can it? The Book Thief reminds us that in war, civilians of all sides are victims.
Despite the tragic nature of the story, The Book Thief isn’t morbid. It is written with grace and empathy, sprinkled with heart warming moments and gentle humour. Somehow it’s simultaneously both heartbreaking and wonderfully uplifting. Author Markus Zusak is a gifted writer and his prose is beautifully poetic, lyrical and poignant. The Book Thief is not a light, fast read. It is a book to treasure, to ponder, to savour. It’s a story that almost hurts to read, but you find yourself relishing ever bittersweet word anyway. I suppose it’s terribly sentimental, but then I like sentimental!
I just wish I’d listened to Sally sooner.
Have you read The Book Thief? What did you think? Or maybe you’ve read something else wonderful lately? Do tell me!
PS Happy “End of the World Day”! It looks like we are safe after all