"It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.
So beings a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time."
I read this one in bits and pieces over a very long period (...well, a long period for me to be stuck on the same book, anyway). It wasn't because the book wasn't engaging enough, but because stupid trivial things such as university and tests and assessments and minor family mishaps kept getting in the way of progress.
But I finally finished it today, and subsequently felt rather depressed. In fact, very depressed.
Of course I know about what happened during the second world war in Nazi Germany, on a sort of 'factual' level. I've seen a movie adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, I've heard about people like Corrie ten Boom, I've read about it on Wikipedia (which of course naturally makes me an expert now), etc etc. But nothing brought home the true horror of actually living there, actually experiencing the full force of human tragedy, as The Book Thief.
At first I thought it was the weirdest book I've ever read. I mean, for starters, it's narrated by Death. Secondly, the prose is bizarre. I felt like I was swinging wildly between hating the pretentiousness and loving the richness with which Zusak describes the most ordinary things. Everything is personified and metaphoralised (..."metaphoralised"?...oh well) beyond belief. Houses "crouch nervously", for example, or pimples "gather in peer groups". Only, imagine this continuing throughout the entire book, on every page. Also, there were a couple of things that weren't explicitly spelled out, which mystified me a bit, and I wish they'd been made more obvious.
Once the book really got going, though, I quite enjoyed the reading experience as a whole. A lot of careful thought and imagination has been poured into this story, which I like. The characters were interesting, if occasionally a little unbelievable. And it definitely highlighted the despair of living in Nazi Germany.
What a horrible time in human history.
RATING: Incredibly haunting, and well worth a read - but probably only once. 4 STARS