For some reason I keep putting off writing a review of one of my top reads this year, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. On one hand this book has been written about extensively and reviews have especially been popping all over the place because of the recent film release. I feel as if I will just echo everything else written about this novel. I also really wanted to see the film first and do a comparison review, but the film didn’t release locally and I don’t know when I’ll be able to see it.
I must write about this book because it moved me so much. See? I already sound cliched. The Book Thief will have to be condensed down to a mini-review because I cannot not write about it.
I will skip the plot summary (because, seriously, where the hell have you been?) excepting to say that this is about a young girl with a love of books and words, it is set in World War II, and it is narrated by Death. If you crack this book open and you aren’t aware it is a sad story then you should probably have your head examined. I’m just going to discuss the two things that really stood out to me while reading this remarkable story.
1). The heroine’s name is Liesel Meminger. Lies Memory. That is how I kept reading her name. This book is truly about lies and memory and how lies shape our memory and memories can shape lies. Each person in this book — even Death — is attempting to deal with trauma, loss, and identity by structuring and restructuring texts. They are reading, painting words on walls, writing over the painted pages of Mein Kampf, making music, writing letters, passing notes, telling stories. The listeners, the writers, and the readers are all taking existing “lies and memories” and trying to tell their own stories; or at the very least make sense of their own stories.
2). One cannot read this book and ever ever ever be in favor of government drone strikes. Yes. I just went there. This book is about the “bad guys” — the Germans of World War II. The Book Thief makes abundantly clear that in war good people suffer. War is between governments, ideas, and religions. Often the everyday people are victims of the price of war: homelessness, hunger, death, sickness, broken families, and unimaginable loss. This book is great in underscoring the human cost of war. The “us and them” is eradicated and one can see the devastation of war on civilians.
When I emerged from devouring this book, snot-nosed and crying, I had an urge to read, write, talk, make music, paint, live, and love everyone. This novel broke my heart, but it also gave me so much hope for the future. Our world may be broken by war, violence, hunger, and poverty, but there is also a great capacity for love, understanding, and kindness in this world. Words mend hearts and shape memories. The Book Thief underscores the importance of language and communication as a way to survive and thrive in a broken word.
Read this book, cry the Ugly Cry, and then pick up a pen and write. There’s hope in that.