A Really, Really, Really, Really Rewarding Reread

Because sometimes you just need to remind yourself that one book played a much bigger role than any others in contributing to your undying love for the English language, the act of reading, and good old fashioned books, am I right?

That book for me has always been The Book Theif by Markus Zusak. And even though this will be my third (maybe fourth) time reading it, I’m still going to count it as book #32 in my 100-books-of-2015 challenge, because Zusak is a god among men and this book is nearly perfect, in my opinion.

They also recently made The Book Thief into a movie, and I’ve heard mixed reviews. I haven’t seen it yet, but I do have some opinions that I will get to later. I love this book so much, and every single time I reread it, I rememberthat. This review is just going to be nonstop, over-the-top praise, so… sorry. But not, because I hope it makes you want to read it if you haven’t already.

So the title of the book refers to the main character, Liesel Meminger. She is (for all intents and purposes) orphaned near the beginning of World War II, and is sent to live with foster parents on Himmel Street in Munich. (She isn’t actually orphaned, but you can infer that her mother needs to go into hiding, and is giving Liesel away to keep her safe, because her husband (Liesel’s father) is a communist in a country where and when that was not the correct political affiliation.)

I should also mention that the narrator of this novel is death, and that death is a dry, sometimes funny, straightforward, honest, and blameless narrator (who knew). That is just one of the reasons this book is so amazing, I think. Death offers new perspectives, jarring and unexpected thoughts, feelings, and actions.

He leads the reader through Liesel’s rocky beginnings on Himmel Street, adapting to her new home and parents, and follows her as she grows up and grows to love the people and the place, when it starts to feel like home. I’m being intentionally vague, because everything in the story is kind of linked, and it’s all really beautiful as you read it for the first time, so I don’t want to ruin that.

Death starts his narration off with the notion that “it’s a small story,” and in the grander scheme, coming from death’s perspective, I guess it is only a small story. But it’s not, and after reading it again, it feels larger than ever. It’s a book about beautiful, small, quiet life in the midst of an earth-shattering war, surrounded by unspeakable evil.

There is happiness, coping, loss, sadness, adolescent nervousness and young love, huge sacrifices, nothing asked in return, connections formed between opposite people, tiny acts of kindness, deep understanding, and an incredible focus on the importance of words and their message, above anything else.

So, my thoughts about the movie. Again, I haven’t seen it, so opinion on it at this point is pretty irrelevant, but part of what makes The Book Thief so amazing to me is the abstract narration. It’s obviously abstract, coming from a character who is rarely ever personified in the way Zusak turns death into a man.

But it’s more than just that unique perspective, because that’s obviously doable, and has been done in movies before. It’s the character descriptions, and it’s just as much about what is not written as what is. Like, how do you direct the actor who plays Rudy’s dad to cry “wooden teardrops” while giving an “oaky smile”? How can a costume crew go about dressing Rosa Hubermann so that she “looked like a small wardrobe with a coat thrown over it”?

A boy with unwashed hair that looks like sticks and clean hair that looks like feathers means something different to everyone. And any translations of Rudy (I love Rudy) from book to screen almost have to be an insult to that perfect character, right? Same with Liesel. No one, no director, no amount of editing, nothing can truly do Liesel Meminger justice except the words of her creator, right?

I’m being over the top, but I really do think it would be difficult to make a book with such a magical, abstract premise into a movie that can convey all of the same intense feeling. But of course, a lot of the story would do well as a movie, because it is such a good story. I’m so conflicted. Of course I’m going to watch it eventually.

All I know is Markus Zusak wrote an amazing book that managed to be about so, so, so much more than the violence and pain that goes with war. He created unforgettable characters, and somehow found a way to convey the deep and meaningful importance of words, whether they’re coming from Hitler, a displaced and strong teenage girl, a suffering Jewish hideaway, or death itself. ◊

He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

– page 80


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