Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Book Thief: Heart-stealer


The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany. Beginning in 1939, it focuses on an abandoned German girl, Liesel, who is sent to live with foster parents in a small town near Munich. As Liesel learns to cope with her new environment, all the pains she has endured, and the extreme unhappiness of pre-war and wartime Germany, she yearns to escape via reading. Her foster father Hans helps her learn to read, and Liesel finds books here and there — in a snowy graveyard, in a Nazi book-burning, and inside the local mayor's house. She has a few friends; first her neighbor and classmate Rudy, and later on her foster father's best WWI friend's son, Max, a Jew whom her new family must hide in their basement. While the toll of WWII, Allied bombing, and Nazi brutality increases, Liesel's world starts to crumble, but words and reading sustain her.

I decided I would seek out this book, this fuss-inducing book.

I added my name to the queue of hopefuls awaiting a copy at the public library, deciding it was worth the 50c surcharge to do so. (I know, it's criminal.)

My turn finally came, and I eagerly collected the novel from the lady stationed at the desk before the holds shelf - my request slip peeking out like a careless bookmark. I squeaked with giddiness as the librarian issued this wondrous read.

She lacked excitement to match.

It took me longer to progress through the book than it might have pre-babe, as reading must compete with babe-staring (my number one past-time).

I knew I wasn't quite making my usual time when I answered the phone to hear a robotic woman address "Unjahla" to inform her a book issued in her name was overdue.

I kept reading anyway.

I contemplated post-it-ing a note inside The Book Thief to mark that day's page, begging the next reader's forgiveness for the 3-day delay in it reaching them; "Sorry. But I couldn't stop here. You understand."

But post-it stick I did not.

There was no time for post-it retrieval or post-it writing at that stage. There was only time for finishing it. And by that, I mean relishing every note of rich figurative language it had left to offer.

The Book Thief is a thing of beauty. It's only flaw being that you will find yourself re-reading a piece of personification because you want to chew it up and swallow it all over again, or stopping to look up as you roll a metaphor around on your tongue.

I cannot say anything more in my words, other than "read it".


Then, bombs.

This time, everything was too late.
The sirens. The cuckoo shrieks in the radio. All too late.

Within minutes, mounds of concrete and earth were stacked and piled. The streets were ruptured veins. Blood streamed till it was dried on the road, and the bodies were stuck there, like driftwood after the flood.
(page 13)

Frau Diller was a sharp-edged woman with fat glasses and a nefarious glare. She developed this evil look to discourage the very idea of stealing from her shop, which she occupied with a soldier-like posture, a refrigerated voice and even breath that smelt like Heil Hitler. The shop itself was white and cold, and completely bloodless. The small house compressed beside it shivered with a little more severity than the other buildings on Himmel Street. Frau Diller administered this feeling, dishing it out as the only free item on her premises. She lived for her shop and her shop lived for the Third Reich.
(page 51 - and this is the characterisation of a minor character!)

She remained on the steps, waiting for Papa, watching the stray ash and the corpse of collected books. Everything was sad. Orange and red embers looked like rejected lollies, and most of the crowd had vanished.
(page 123)

The main character reads to a captive audience, and the air is described with this:

The sound of the turning page carved them in half.
(page 408)

A thing of beauty.
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