The Book Thief. Satisfying on so many levels. I tend to read things quickly but I luxuriated in every delicately picked and carefully placed word. The text sings. It’s a delight to read.
Even though the subject is horrific and the narrator is death.
The Book Thief is Leisel Meminger; the context, her experiences of Nazi Germany. It’s potentially a tired subject; but Markus Zusak brings is right back to life. We’re with Leisel every step of the way. As she cycles through the streets of Molching with her best friend Rudy and as she weeps over his body. As her surrogate father teaches her to read and her surrogate mother, to swear. When she’s being a child and when she’s no choice but to be an adult. We’re in the basement with snowmen and paints and words and a hidden Jew. In the library where Leisel discovers books and earns her title and finds herself when everyone else has been destroyed.
We’re right there with death.
It’s an interesting perspective to take. It makes the contrasts all the more powerful – because The Book Thief is a tragedy underlined with hope. It’s hideously ugly with piercing glimpses of beauty. Most importantly, it’s a story and a lesson.
Words heal. They’re really important.
In words, Leisel discovers her great pleasure. Through words, an imprisoned Jew can find a voice. With books, the characters are comforted (in the basement with the bombs falling); and soothed (in the middle of the night, when the terror really kicks in); and brought together (learning to read and listening to words and telling stories).
In the midst of the pain and the coldness and the fear, words give respite.
When everything that can be taken from a human has been taken, they provide a voice.
As Leisel’s own words demonstrate, they’re the only weapon that can really stand up to hatred and violence.
It’s a fitting message from such a skilled wordsmith.
Tags: reading the world