Thursday, 11 March 2010

Ahhhh...Books! (Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusack)

Two years ago, in order to stimulate my limited reading preferences, I set up a book club. Our group, all friends of mine who would normally have met over dinner, have since fallen into a happy routine of meeting every six weeks to review a book. This gathering doesn’t involve dinner, just a few nibbles and strangely enough, at book club, we don’t over indulge in the wrath of grapes either. Book club has become a real forum for...er, books.

So, over the past twenty four months, I’ve read many different genres that otherwise I wouldn’t have touched with a proverbial bargepole. I’ve escaped the reading rut I was in, that of reading commercial beach fodder only. And though I’m still rather partial to a beach bonk-buster, with nine members of both sexes, the book club choices have forced me and others to reach past our self imposed comfort zones. Most of the times, I’ve liked the book. Some of the times, I’ve loathed the book and quite often, I’ve loved the book to the point of passion. I’ve wanted to shout from the rafters, any rafters, that everyone should read this book! The latest author to come under our scrutiny, Mr Markus Zusack, writer of the magnificent ‘’The Book Thief’ has provoked such emotions in me.

‘The Book Thief’ took me ages to get into. If it has a fault, that may be it, but I soon forgave it because after an initial feeling of ‘What the...’ – I loved this really remarkable book. Narrated by Death itself, it tells the story of a young girl, Liesel Hemminger, in Nazi Germany. This unusual narrative device, expertly delivered by Zusack, gives Death an often sympathetic voice, for example when he questions the human race saying “So much good, so much evil...”

The characters are superbly drawn with Liesel’s disparate foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, providing as safe a haven as possible in war torn Molching; a town close enough to Dachau for Liesel and her foster family to witness streams of starving Jews marched slowly to their fate. Liesel is taught to read by Hans and a love of words and language creates a longing desire for books (used to fuel Nazi fires) prompting her to have to steal them.

Liesel learns compassion when her normally short tempered foster mother agrees to hide a Jewish man in their basement, without question or concern for their own well being. She learns to love and laugh in the company of best friend Rudy Steiner and together,be it by stealing apples or leaving a trail of stale bread for the Jews on the road to Dachau, they do their bit to fight the oppressive regime they live under.

This novel celebrates the power of words and language, both in the telling and content of the story. As a reader it left me wanting more and as a writer left me feeling – that’s how it’s done. And without offering spoilers, I think I can share with you that in THIS example of writing, the last line was even more powerful than that all important first, when Death reveals ‘I am haunted by humans.’
I still get a lump in my throat thinking of the impact of that line.

Following Caro’s piece yesterday on authors' responses to book reviews, I trust Markus will be happy when I shout from the rafters 'Yay Markus! You made me laugh and smile, you made me cry. You made me stare at your words in wonder.'
Yes. All of the above. 9/10

13 comments:

Charmaine Clancy said...

This is my most favourite book. It's sad in a beautiful way. I think it's a must read, especially for writers.

The Virtual Victorian said...

I've never read this - and now you've really inspired me to go out and buy it today. Who could resist a book narrated by Death?

Helen Black said...

There's nothing better than someone talking passionately about a book to make to want to read it is there?
I want to run out immediately and buy it.
Which makes me wonder whether the old saying that books do well by word of mouth, is actually on the money.
HBx

Gillian McDade said...

This is a book which has so far escaped my grasp. You've definitely talked me into it, Fionnuala.

And I love the wrath of grapes! Genuis :)

Jules said...

I too loved this book. It was something that a friend loaned me after she loved it.

Great read!

jules

Roderic Vincent said...

I found this book captivating too, but I have to say I also found it somewhat sentimental and emotionally manipulative in a deliberate, Stephen Spielberg, sort of way. Deftly done, and well-worth reading, though.

CarolineG said...

Yes, you've really convinced me too, Fionnuala...
I'm in a book group too and also love the fact that it forces me out of comfort zone. I've read some real gems that I wouldn;t normally have picked up. And only a few stinkers ;)

Poppy said...

I loved this book very much - loved the device and the voice - but I don't think it really conveyed the horror. Not sure.

Debs Riccio said...

Thanks Fi - what a great review - and another book to add to my already-teetering pile of 'to read' fodder. And not a sling-back or a handbag in sight on the cover - how rare!

Old Kitty said...

Oh what a really amazing review! I can see how and why it's provoked such a strong response from you.

I want to buy, I want to read!

This book!

:-)

Thank you for sharing

Take care
x

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. Poppy, I actually felt the horror through the book without it being too overwhelming? Maybe its so as its marketed as a YA book and strictly speaking aimed at a younger audience? Whaddya think?

Poppy said...

Maybe, Fi. I think some horror *is* conveyed, but that something is missing. I'm not sure what though. Maybe it's something to do with what Rod says. Really not sure!!

Although, did he actually write it as YA? I had the impression it was written as adult, and got marketed as crossover.

I did love it though!

Olivia Ryan said...

OK, that's it, I'm going to buy it! xx