Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Book Thief

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say, that this book started slow. I didn't like it at first. I didn't like the writing style. It was too plain. It dragged. Each moment was a moment, like a raindrop, landing with a thud and a tiny splash. There was no river, no flow to the words. And everyone had said how much they loved it. Everyone was so fluent in their adoration. I thought, okay, clearly this was over-hyped. I've read war stories before. I've read about WWII, and WWI, Pat Barker and other things that I've adored in their inescapable beauty and brutality.

This wasn't that kind of book.

It wasn't supposed to be that kind of book.

This is a story about people who are not given the privilege of choice. They are just people. They act, like people do, because of complicated, murky reasoning, and necessity, and obligation, and because they're people. There is so much good and evil swirling around in the world, but in the end, there is none of those things in the characters in this story. There's cruelty and kindness, but none of it clean, none of it alone. And these people, they are powerless and helpless in the face of the words that control their lives.

I never, ever doubted that this book was skillfully written. It was almost too skillful, too artfully real and artfully false. It was carefully, so carefully constructed to be real. I can't say I loved it. But I loved what was inside of it, once the shell cracked and let us into the meat inside. I loved the accordion, and the apples, and Jesse Owens, and the colors of the sky. And really, once I hit the halfway point, this book got moving, and I did not want to stop.

So I get it now. This is a pretty damn good book.

This was the part that hit me where it hurt though:

"'Don't punish yourself,' she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing."

It reminded me of a post I had read recently, one about fear. Writing, this woman said, was about delving deep, so deep, into the things that terrified her most, not spiders and snakes, but real things, like abuse and cruel negligence. This book feels like that. I cannot believe this was an easy book to write. It's precise, upsetting, control is a sign of that. It's a book that stares the truth in the face, and does not flinch. Maybe it doesn't look too hard, but it doesn't look away.

"Words are so heavy."

But there's never been a book before where I frowned at it, and told Death that he should stop making jokes. He's not funny.

So, it's pretty damn good. I believe it now.

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