|THE BOOK THIEF|
Knopf Books for Young Readers
To be honest, this is one book I almost didn't finish. At the fifty page mark I was still pretty uninterested and was finding the narration of Death a bit confusing. Luckily a Twitter friend told me to stick it out, and I'm glad I did as it quickly became apparent that Death is the most appropriate narrator for this story that takes place during World War 2. The third-person, sort-of-omniscient point of view allows for a wider story than we'd otherwise get. Leisel's foster father is one of the few men who doesn't belong to the Nazi Party and because of this he finds it difficult to get work as a painter, making their family one of the poorest in an already-poor neighborhood. The war and the realities of the Nazi regime hit close to home when Liesel and her foster family hide a Jewish man in their basement. This divides Leisel's life into two distinct parts: the part she plays outside of the home as she attends Hitler Youth, plays soccer with the neighborhood friends, and occasionally steals books from the mayor's house, and the life she has at home as she makes friends with the Jew and reads her stolen books to him.
For me the story arc involving the hidden Jew was the real heart of this book and as the story widened to include Liesel's friends and neighbors, their various histories, and the war itself it became obvious why Death was an actual character in this book and why it was chosen to be the narrator. For even at the happiest, brightest moments in Liesel's life there's a sense of dread as the reader knows -- even if the characters don't -- that there are many unseen horrors happening and that they will, as we are repeatedly told, eventually come to Munich Street. There's a legitimate sense of dread and foreboding in this incredibly powerful book.
And it is both powerful and beautiful as a story not only of the Holocaust, but of the extraordinary feats -- both terrible and amazingly good -- that humans are capable of. Liesel, her foster parents (especially her father), and her best friend Rudy are the primary characters whose capacity for goodness is extraordinary, and I feel odd voicing the problems with this book because it is, for the most part, one of the best books I've read on this period of history.
However, things started to fall apart for me about 400 pages into this 550 page tome. Whereas previously there had been a great focus on story and characters, which conveyed the ideas and -- dare I say it? -- morals of the story very well, the narration started to seem overly verbose, almost wandering into "purple prose" territory. We are told, instead of shown, the power that words have. There's a romanticism of words, the narrator's own words in particular, that doesn't quite fit the rest of the book and had me feeling as if the book were going on much longer than it should have. The story, as its narrater drifted into the future and continually reminded us what was going to happen, seemed to drift away and I kept waiting for the narration and story to meet up again. This did happen, but not until the very end of the book -- at which point, despite all the spoilers Death had given us, I still cried.
This book is incredibly powerful. For the most part it's amazing. However, there's a romanticism and idealization of words within it that doesn't sit well with me considering the subject matter. I felt that it was almost too beautiful and too concerned with its own beauty considering all of the horrific stories it contained.