the book thief visited

thebookthiefcover

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Where to start? You might think that you wouldn’t want to read a book called The Book Thief. You might think that you don’t read historical fiction, or don’t read at all if it’s not necessary. But I assure you, you’ll want to make an exception with this book. You’ll want to read the book called The Book Thief. Because if there was one book that I could get everyone to read, it would be this one. “You cannot be afraid. Read the book. Smile at it. It’s a great book-the greatest book you’ve ever read.”

“It’s 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”

Death is the narrator, by the way. “I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.”

“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.”

The book thief’s name was Liesel. There was a Jew in her basement. “Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew.”

For she was a girl who lived in Nazi Germany. She was also a girl who read books.  “All told, she owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon.”

Liesel’s best friend was a boy whose hair was the color of lemons. “A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”

He was a boy who was forced to be in the Hitler Youth by circumstance, mostly location. That didn’t mean he had to like it. “As Rudy slumped into the corner and flicked mud from his sleeve at the window, Franz fired him the Hitler Youth’s favourite question: ‘When was our Führer Adolf Hitler born?’ Rudy looked up. ‘Sorry?’ The question was repeated and the very stupid Rudy Steiner, who knew all too well that it was April 20 1889, answered with the birth of Christ. He even threw in Bethlehem as an added piece of information. Franz smeared his hands together. A very bad sign. He walked over to Rudy and ordered him back outside for some more laps of the field. Rudy ran them alone, and after every lap, he was asked again the date of the Führer’s birthday. He did seven laps before he got it right.”

What you can take from that, besides the fact that he was extremely stubborn, was that he knew what was right . Also, that he lost his head at times. “On Munich Street, Rudy noticed Deutscher walking along the footpath with some friends and felt the need to throw a rock at him. You might as well ask just what the hell he was thinking. The answer is probably nothing at all. He’d probably say that he was exercising his God-given right to stupidity.”

This was them. “He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

Back to Death’s narration. As I just demonstrated, he doesn’t stick to how a story is usually told. “Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story.”

Death knows that there are no sides to war. “A small but noteworthy note. I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.”

And you see, Death doesn’t like his job. “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 your shoulder repeating one thin, 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.”

Death tries his best to take his mind off his job by watching the sky. “People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.”

Death is haunted by humans. “I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.”

Death knows all too well what always happens in the end. “And it would show me, once again, that one opportunity leads directly to another, just as risk leads to more risk, life to more life, and death to more death.”

Death is worn out. For in Nazi Germany, there is always so much for him to do. “So many colors. They keep triggering inside me. They harass my memory. I see them tall in their heaps, all mounted on top of each other. There is air like plastic, a horizon like setting glue. There are skies manufactured by people, punctured and leaking, and there are soft, coal-colored clouds, beating like black hearts. And then. There is death. Making his way through all of it. On the surface: unflappable, unwavering. Below: unnerved, untied, and undone.”

But Death saw Liesel during that time. There is reason for him to be telling us her story.“Yes, I’m often reminded of her, and in one of my array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell. It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right. Each one an attempt – an immense leap of an attempt – to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.”

Which should tell you something.

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