Published by Knopf Books
Rating: 6/5 stars (that's how much I loved it.)
It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .
Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist- books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever they are to be found.
With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
There just aren’t words enough for how much I loved this book. But I will say this, upon finishing this book, I went through my Goodreads and actually demoted a few five stars book to four, because they didn’t just quite hold up to how much this book blew me away. I’ve never felt the need to do that before. I’ll also say that once in hearing some author interviews, they were asked what book they wished they had written. I now have my answer, I wish I wrote this book. I wish I COULD write something this fantastic.
So, how do I count the ways I love thee?
Well, first of all the language and POV is phenomenal. Here are some tasty little quotes for you: “the moon was sewn into the sky that night. Clouds were stitched around it.”, “The soft-spoken words fell off the side of the bed, emptying to the floor like powder.” and “The course bounce of ball on road.” This book is absolutely brimming with this kind of intricate and completely beautiful language and shows such a mastery of words.
Second, the POV. Being narrated by Death, that gives the story distant and poignant view of the atrocities of the Holocaust and World War Two. His narration is lightly snarky but also understanding and insightful and makes the horrible burden of the Holocaust not as suffocatingly real as WW II stories can be.
On that note, I have to give a lot of credit to the setting of the story. Many WW II/ Holocaust stories are set in concentration camps and death camps or within a hiding place, this is set within Nazi Germany. “Free” Nazi Germany. Most of the characters are Germans, not Jews. Most of the characters are not Nazi Germans either. Too often an entire country is painted with the sins of radicals and this book breaks that mould. These are normal, everyday Germans governed by an idea they don’t really embrace.
You might think that with a third person narration from a character such as Death, you might not get a full sense of the characters. However it’s his perspective adds such unique thoughts and perspectives on these characters that you gather more from Death’s comments and notes about the world he’s witnessing. And it makes it harder for us, the wiser, later generation that knows how it all ends, to witness. We know and of course Death knows.
I won’t ruin anything of course, but I will admit that I sobbed at the end of this book. I’ve choked up, teared up and even cried a little with books before. I have never sobbed. Tears streaming down my face, my cat looking at me in confusion, holding my face as though it would hold me together kind of sobbing. You say to yourself, “it’s a Holocaust book, didn’t you expect this?” I did, but I didn’t. The end is alluded to through out the book, but to sob even when you’re expecting it, that’s powerful.
Zusak created a complicated world with many different moving parts and seamlessly blended them together to create a heart-wrenching and beautiful story set in Nazi Germany. So, Mr. Zusak, I applaud you. I would have thought something like this would have come from a man in his 50s who has seen the world, but no, I looked it up. He’s not even 10 years older than me.
I would tell anyone with a passion for beautifully and uniquely written literature, or with an interest in a completely different kind of Holocaust story to read this book. Really, I would just tell everyone to read this. There’s no reason not to as far as I can see.