What drew me to this book was the fact that it is narrated by Death, so it’s definitely something different. I read it for the first time a long time ago and have recently picked it up again because it all went over my head.
Re-reading it now, I know why it all got lost on me. It’s a tougher read than the young adult novels I had been reading; it’s not one I could read on the bus or anything. I needed to be still in a quiet place to get the full effect of the book. That’s probably why it didn’t stick the first time around when I was reading as fast as I could. It took me a while to finish reading it the second time. It was an interesting read for sure, but it was not so fast paced that I could sit down and zip through five chapters. However, it was not a chore to keep reading; I wanted to know what would happen next, but it wasn’t critical that I find out right then and there sometimes. That could have very well been because I wanted to watch TV or write rather than read, so interpret that as you will.
It is a book I would recommend that everyone read.
The story takes place around the time of World War II, and I feel like there’s a bias that comes with that setting because you’d be a terrible person to dislike a book about the Holocaust (unless it was a book that excused it). Thankfully, I honestly believe it’s a great book.
It begins before the full on war broke out. In the first few short chapters, Death starts in the middle of the timeline and gives you a few souls he’s picked up which seem random at first, but they fit into the story of the main character as you read on.
After the few souls Death has picked up, it then goes into the story of the book thief.
The main character, the book thief, got her start when a grave digger dropped a book in the snow, and she spotted it while no one else did. The grave digger was burying a family member of hers, so that first book was a memory of this relative and her first bout of sadness in the book, so book thieving and learning to read those books is a way for her to deal as the war gets closer and closer to her.
The writer breaks rules of sentence structure and story telling, but it’s a good thing. Zusak makes it work. It’s a well written story with a moving plot line. I especially enjoyed the motif of words; how words can be used for good or for evil and how powerful they can be. And what I would call a “reveal” though I’m not quite sure that’s the right word for it. It was a mind blowing realization once I got toward the end of the book.
It was a little confusing at first, but I made sense of it as I kept reading. I found myself getting lost as to how old the character was because Death would do a flash forward and then subtly return to the present in the next chapter. This book takes place over a course of several years. You watch the character grow up.
The characters have depth and you notice their considerable change as the kids grow up. For me the change in character is tough to write because it can’t be abrupt change; one has to lead up to the change subtly.
Death almost spoils its own story in some parts, and I have mixed feelings about it. For example, in one chapter, Rudy’s standing knee deep in an icy river in the middle of December, and Death basically tells me this is not where Rudy dies, but he will later. And then the story continues with not another mention of Rudy’s death until the actual part of his death.
On the other hand, it keeps me reading because I’m anticipating when Rudy will die. With every sentence I read, I wonder, is this where they get him?
This could be a problem in any other book, but for this book, for me, it wasn’t really a problem because I’ve learned about the Holocaust, and what was going on and why the Jews were being paraded around.
However, if you had no knowledge of the Holocaust (which is practically unheard of), I don’t think the book would make very much sense. Why are starving Jews being paraded around? What is the purpose of it? Why are air raids being practiced? Why are bombs being dropped?