The subject matter made this reader hesitate initially to take it on, but enough endorsement finally pushed me over the edge. I’m glad it did. (And I owe thanks to everyone who warned me not to let the slowness of the beginning dissuade me.) Once the story finally does pick up, it sucks you in with dread hopefulness and rending empathy.
When a book is narrated by Death itself, one doesn’t proceed with the expectation of sunshine and happiness. This presentation choice could easily have gone the way of overdone trope, but instead it’s used in sparing measure—with a reverent balance of gallows humor and haunting profundity. The chapter names sometimes act as clever foreshadowing, and in some cases, a wry form of misleading. The result is certain unpredictability to an otherwise fixed historical timeline.
"It kills me sometimes how people die." --Death
This is not simply another book about the holocaust.
Yes, it inextricably involves the terrible imprint of Nazi Germany. But it presents the event from an original and altogether sympathetic angle—through the story of an orphaned German girl who’s foster parents make the decision to hide a Jew in their basement. This book is about loss and compassion, pain and pity, fear and courage. It’s a look at the gradual indoctrination and downfall of a country through its effect on some of its most innocent and entrapped citizens. It’s a story about the many horrors of war, and of the ways humans cope with seemingly insurmountable stresses.
Zusak’s style reminded me of Neil Gaiman on more than one occasion—and I mean that in the best way possible. He has a way with muddling through utter darkness and still illuminating whatever redemptive bits of beauty might be worth finding. His prose is at times both soul-warming and heart-splintering in its rawness of candor. It evokes cinematic detailing, as well as profound emotional resonance.
This reader personally sees tremendous value in this book—particularly to a Young Adult audience now so far removed from the shadowy blight of the holocaust. For some, this could potentially bring the events to life in a way few other works could manage. True, the language usage is sometimes coarse to the point of excessive. But in the context of the time, the culture, and the characters, it becomes a sort of droning background noise—easily ignored.
“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”