Now that I’ve reread it with a more mature and critical mindset, I think four stars still holds true.
Markus Zusak remains, in my mind, one of the most quotable authors I’ve ever read. His style is rich and full of imagery and clever turns of phrase that are beyond fantastic. If I wasn’t afraid that it might be stupid and something I’d later regret, I’d take out a highlighter and go crazy. As is, sticky notes will have to do. Simply put, Zusak writes the way I love, the way I want to write, the way one of my very good writing buddies writes (and I adore her prose because of her imagery and descriptiveness).
For the whole “Death narrates” aspect, I’m not blown away. I think it’s a clever idea, and I think it worked, and was an experiment in writing gone right. But many people seem to think Death’s grim humor and unique tone is what makes the book, and I’d have to disagree. It’s interesting, yes, but that’s not what makes the book special.
And in my opinion, what makes this book worth the second read is the last 70 pages. The Book Thief’s end is one of the most hauntingly beautiful things I’ve ever read, probably more so because the reader knows it’s coming from the absolute beginning. The entire thing is an emotional mess. I don’t cry when I read books, and I didn’t cry when I read The Book Thief, but the feeling was there. It’s such a terrific sad-yet-happy resolution. I finished this and seriously sat there like: “Did this all just happen? Did Zusak just pull that off?”
I read Zusak’s other major novel, I Am the Messenger, last year, and I think that in comparison, the writing of The Book Thief is maybe a little less accessible. Death’s narration gives you a certain distance from the characters and plot, and his little sidebar comments can at times be distracting. Some may like that, but I don’t. That’s why, on the whole, I’m not as huge a fan of Zusak’s choice in narrator as the rest of The Book Thief’s dedicated fans.
And while Zusak’s angle on WWII is new—poor German foster girl who steals books—I feel that on the whole, WWII as a topic is very, very tired. I’m not denying that there’s a lot of material to work with, but I can only read so many books about how awful the Nazis were before things get stale. Elie Wiesel’s Night paints the picture clearly enough without additional fictionalized accounts. It’s sort of the way I felt about John Green’s The Fault in our Stars—a great author tackles overdone gimmick.
That being said, the first couple hundred pages of this are very rough, and by rough I mean boring. It’s all typical Nazis attempting to brainwash unsuspecting Germans, some people who see through the brainwashing and are morally superior to hating Jews, hiding a Jew in the basement—the sort of thing anybody would write about in a WWII-era novel.
But like I said, the last 70 pages redeemed a lot of the staleness of this book.
For those willing to brave the dense content and length, The Book Thief is worth your time. Zusak’s writing is excellent, as is the end. I can easily see why this book is so popular, and I think it’s well-deserving of its fame. When I read it when I was fourteen, I remember being pretty ambivalent about it, and I think I still am.
Not one of my absolute favorites, even after a reread and some consideration, but I think it’s a worth while time investment. Zusak certainly can write.