Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review for The Book Thief - Markus Zusak


I know I've sworn off Ricochet Reviews quite a long time ago, but I happened to find an old one floating around in the land of Drafts.





The Book Thief
It’s just 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.
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

Confessedly, there was a sunken hiatus between the aloof skim of the first few pages and when I began truly reading it. When able to devote any length of time to a book, I've always found it easy to escape into the printed page -- almost like a clumsy Alice in Wonderland rendition, falling to where ever the novel proves elsewhere, Wonderland, is. I tend to find myself unable to come up for air until sifting onto the last few pages, where I hesitate for fear of what might happen when I come to the end. Depending on the book's "level", that excitable, illogical immersion might even raise the notion of death itself.

If you have never read a book so sweetly perfect that a nonsensical sensation of fear for immanent death upon the approach of its impending ending (all the wayward, cliff-hangings, or however) overwhelms some locked away, borderline-insane, closet-fan-girl piece of you, then you are a victim of either blatant illiteracy, unjust censorship, or literary shelteredness, and whichever way you should find yourself a terribly wretched thing. But if you have, in fact, found that moment of perfection - arguably amongst the most perfect moments in a lifetime blessed with the gifts of civilization (and yes, there is a feasible cause for the dramatization of such a silent event) - then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

And then, I have to ask: Does that irrational moment become even more perplexing when you have been, seamlessly and intimately, with Death throughout the entire novel?  

Of course.

I don't recall anything so ambitious being so well-executed and effective in my literary travels, though 1894 and Wuthering Heights (or on a remotely lesser level, in an unintentional abstract way, The Hunger Games and If I Stay) fleet around the blurred edges under such criteria. It makes me wonder who ponders on something so abstract, nonetheless who so artfully captures it. Who goes there? Who goes there, and comes back?

The reader is dragged back decades, through the colors of a cruel life and the cheer of Death, into the harsh world of World War II, where a little girl, a book thief, a someone named Liesel Meminger, is suffering. From the beginning you are told her story, one Death harbors an odd fondness for, and the bloody, ashen, charcoaled colors of a short life. As the narrorator isn't one to rush (though a constant point being made in fire and ice), the reader's purpose is to patiently wait as her life is splashed across the pages in a thousand shades of red and black and white.

I'm not quite sure how to describe - no, convey what this book is. I've never read another like it. It's both abstract and clear, brutal and haunting, cold - but never nice.  It lingers. It stays and stays until you let the residue crawl from the peripheral of your thoughts to the shaking core of your cerebrum in those brief silent moments of contemplation: before you sleep, in the midst of mechanic routine, and in contrast to the blissfully unknowing life sputtering around you in spite of the thought-provoking hunger left in The Book Thief's wake. It's the kind of read where you're not here nor there because you can't be, for a murky, undescribable while.

You have to be in a meditating, artistic mood to appreciate, if not enjoy, the complex simplicity of The Book Thief. But once you're ready, you'll understand.

It's perfect.




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