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Where Death is So Becoming: The Book Thief

I've been contemplating disowning my sister. I mean, she's fun. And when we're not fighting like passionate sisters do, we get along like a proverbial house on fire. But she didn't rate The Book Thief, and that's just not on as far as I am concerned.

Sister or otherwise, I'm not usually one to insist people like the same things I do. But the thing is, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is...ahhh, how do I put this?...the best piece of literature in the history of the world.

Yes, the history of the world.

I hadn't even heard of the best-seller when I unwrapped it on my 28th birthday. But it was a present from a friend whose book taste I trust without question so I looked forward to sinking in. But first I had to finish A Thousand Splendid Suns. So, I did. And I loved. So much in fact that the Khaled Hosseini novel replaced Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones as my all-time favourite.

But the glory was short lived.

Just a handful of pages into The Book Thief I knew I was embarking upon an exceptional reading experience.

A multi-award winner, the story is narrated by a cheerful, affable character who is instantly likable. That narrator is death. And there it is, page 4, the reason I love this book. Zusak starts, progresses and concludes outside the square. His risks, and there are many, pay off making for not just an amazing read, but an inspiring one.

“The words were on their way, and when they arrived, she would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and wring them out, like the rain.”

Set in Germany before and during World War II, you'd be forgiven for assuming The Book Thief would be graphic or heavy, especially considering the grim reaper is telling the tale. And while death and dying are major themes, Zusak's words work in such a way that there is little to feel uneasy about. You will, in fact, likely empathise with death as a down-trodden employee working for the man.

Literature itself is celebrated in the novel and forms the foundation of a number of key relationships. The friendship formed between protagonist Liesel Meminger (a young girl, feisty yet endearing) and Max Vandenburg (a Jew who Liesel's foster parents are hiding in their basement), was, for me, one of the most touching.
Ultimately, there's something quite beautiful about Zusak's juxtaposition of humanity. Through powerful characters who demonstrate courage and kindness alongside their human flaws, Zusak manages to balance the incomprehensible actions of war.

“If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter and bread with only the scent of jam spread on top of it.”

Shall I go on? I could. I really could. I could talk about The Book Thief all day. But just get your hands on a copy. Sink your teeth in. And if you don't love it, don't tell me or I'll have to disown you too.

Oh, PS (tautology?): Zusak was born and still lives in Sydney. I was completely stoked when I discovered that. Hope you are too.

words: Kate Jacka


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