Monday, December 14, 2009

Markus Zusak: The Book Thief

Since Thanksgiving break, I've been able to catch up on some long overdue reading and I hardly even know where to begin. I'm saving The Hunger Games for next week because I just finished it last night, and if I write about it now I'll just gush like a school girl. Let's be honest...I'll probably do that anyway. But still, I'll try to take a step back and be reasonable. Besides, I've got something else to gush about today.

Markus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief, has been on my to-read list since it came out in 2006. But much like the occasional intense Netflix that sits on my shelf for months until I'm "in the mood" (right now it's the foreign film After the Wedding), it took me awhile to pick this one up.

Set in Molching, Germany during World War II, this is the story of Leisel Meminger, an 11-year-old girl who moves in with a foster family and harbors a Jewish refugee in her basement. But it's much more than that. It's a story about the power of words. It's about love. It's about finding hope and freedom where neither exist.

I loved this book for many reasons...the well-rounded characters, the gripping story, the heroine's spunk. But mostly, I loved it for the prose. It's appropriate that in a book about words, the language Zukas uses catches you off guard. At times it is rough and plain, at others it's pure poetry. Every other page, it seemed, I was looking at the world in a new way.

"The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned."
I learned from Eisha at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast that "in Zusak’s native Australia, this was published as an adult novel. But here in the U.S., it’s being marketed as young adult." I know publishers have teams of people working on marketing data to rationalize these decisions, and maybe they've made more money in the US marketing The Book Thief as YA, which is fine. I probably would have sided with the Australians myself, but that's not because I think teenagers can't handle it. Mostly, it's because I think this book should be read as widely as possible. It's a rare book. The kind that makes you feel different after you read it.

The Book Thief is beautiful, a work of art, but it's not easy. I was red-eyed for days after I read it. So here's the deal: you don't have to read it today. Let it sit on your shelf as long as you need to. Get ready. Steel up the nerve. But someday, when you feel up to being shaken and moved, when you want a book that will stir you to the core, pick it up. Take a deep breath. Turn the first page. Read.

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