As one of my semi-failed resolutions, I pledged to read 12 books I have always ‘meant’ to read in 2019. When I finally finished Zusak’s tale of childhood in Nazi Germany 2 months after I intended to read it, I found a receipt dated January 2014. So, 5 years and 4 months later, this is what I thought.
For one, it’s far too long. Maybe it’s my “analytic first-year English student” brain that’s insisting there’s far too many purple passages, or it simple is descriptive simply for the sake of it. You’d think Death wouldn’t have time for detail. I felt the drawn-out character narratives only sought to heighten the impact of their eventual death – but you can be attached to and affected by a character without a 200-page surplus of irrelevant side-lining (think Charlotte’s Web).
The actual form was ineffective. The division into subsections merely served as yardsticks for when I could stop reading, the chapters were too short too often and so lost any of its dramatic effect, and the bolded interjections from Death were neither illuminating nor entertaining. This ‘quirky’ narrator soon lost its novelty and quickly became a macabre form of the Godly Author (see Barthes ‘The Death of The Author’ – sorry, English student strikes again).
Despite this, the characters do hold resonance. I was truly rooting for Liesl in all her fearlessness and profanity. I held my breath for every literary heist and cried with her as she scrambled for papa’s accordion. Max re-personalised an experience which has recently been simplified to base facts and figures, highlighting the lost humanity of a generation under insidious ideology. The occupants of Himmel Street shone light on the everyday experiences of WW2 Germans not dissimilar from British civilians – it is interesting how historical memory rules German citizens as conspirators, a label ‘The Book Thief’ successfully questions towards a more nuanced view of vulnerability and societal conformity.
Put simply, I see why it is so well-loved, but I won’t be reaching for it any time soon. Maybe I’ve read far too many books on WW2, but this didn’t seem to add much to an already wearied conversation.