The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

If you are going to put anything on the internet, no matter at how small a scale, you have to recognize the possibility that you may be horrifically wrong. That’s a part of life, I suppose. The problem with being wrong is that it feels indistinguishable from being right, and thus it becomes a really difficult thing to cure. Think back to the last argument you had with someone. There was probably a 50% chance you were wrong, and you didn’t budge.

That’s what reading this book felt like to me. Everyone else seemed to like it, and I cannot for the life of me fathom why.

The Book Thief is a World War II narrative. It follows the pretty sad life of a girl names Liesel, who unfortunately is coming of age in these horrific circumstances. Having lost her parents, she ends up in a relationship a boy about her age, a foster father, and the Jewish man her foster father is hiding in their home.

That’s really about it. If reading that makes you wonder ‘why is the book called The Book Thief?’, well, then welcome to my club. I don’t know either. The protagonist steals, at best, three books. Over the course of my reading this, I ate more Nicoise salads than the protagonist stole books. No one is calling me The Nicoise Salad Eater. There’s a vulgar joke in here, but I will refrain from it. But the point is that of all the character does, stealing books is a vanishing minority.

A lot seems to be made of the fact that the narrator of this story is Death itself, personified. Frankly, I don’t get it. The narrator may as well just be third person omniscient, for the actual effect that it has on the narrative. There was perhaps one section in the middle where this wasn’t the case. And the narrator picked up a little bit more in the second half, but never enough so that I would ever bring myself to call it a character of the book. Pick this book up and start reading it somewhere in the middle and you will see what I mean. It’s really just third person omniscient with better marketing. This wouldn’t be the first time a book leans on a gimmick, but I don’t see what the accolades are for. What it did feel like was something that was just there to set up a punch line at the end. The punch line, in my opinion, wasn’t that good.

To this point, the author also laces the book with these random factoids about characters, settings, and random asides. Again, this could just be done with a smart-ass third person omniscient, alla ‘the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’. But I also didn’t really understand what these were meant to add. They actually took me out of the narrative pretty frequently. As did the German. The book is peppered with the occasional German phrase, followed by its exact translation in English. I’m bilingual, and I really don’t know how to do this well. Oscar Wao did this a lot better, and I still didn’t like it there. I know this can be done well, but what Book Thief does is just irritating. It just duplicates text needlessly.

All of these things would be fine if buttressed with good writing. But none of it was. Reading this book was an uphill slog. I remember preciously little of any of the characters I encountered. There really isn’t all that much here.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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