Article published on February 16, 2015.
MY HOPES FOR THE BOOK THIEF
1. That everyone reads this book
2. That I don’t ever end up watching the film
Please excuse the bold type above. It’s a little device which is used so effectively by Markus Zusak in his 2007 publication The Book Thief. This original, thrilling novel is one of my all-time favourites and with each re-read I am blown away as to how superb it actually is. Excellent use of descriptive writing makes reading this a multisensory experience. Zusak’s narrator is none other than Death himself whose function is to gather up the souls of the departed.
Kept very busy by World War II, he finds time to pick up an abandoned book written by a young girl he has had his eye on for some time. This is the writings of Liesl, the Book Thief. Death, as one would imagine, is not a perfect narrator. He playfully toys with us, gives hints, makes lists and asides and reveals events before he should, but there is no doubt that he is captivated by Liesl and the residents of Himmel Street in the German town of Molching. He is not the only one. There are few characters in fiction I care for more than Liesl, her neighbourhood friend Rudy, and her foster parents, the accordion playing Hans Huberman and his wardrobe-shaped, potty-mouthed wife, Rosa.
Death narrates a tale which is full of memorable incidents which come to define the characters; Rudy’s obsession with Olympic athlete Jesse Owens which is taken a little too far; Hans’ acts of recklessly selfless kindness and for Liesl; the theft of books. Anyone who has a love for books should read this novel as it is undoubtedly the best book about books. Liesl’s first theft occurs in tragic circumstances in an icy cold cemetery, a useless acquisition for the illiterate nine year old but that inappropriate volume becomes her lifeline and when she learns to read from it her need for further reading matter grows.
There are a number of books within this book. Zusak gives us the chance to experience a wealth of other titles, some stolen by Liesl and some produced for her by other characters. There is no greater testament to the power reading and words can have on our lives and for that alone Zusak should be celebrated. On a previous re-read I noted in my Book Journal that I hoped they would never make a film of it. It could only dilute the power of the book. At the start of last year the film I didn’t want to see made opened to a muted response and mixed reviews. I do not want to see it. I don’t like that there will be people out there who will say, “I’ve seen the film, I don’t need to read it.” You do. If you loved the film I’m sure the experience of the book will be even better, if you didn’t like the film just try and wipe it from your mind and give the book a chance. Hopefully it will find a permanent place on your shelves.
A SHORT LIST OF OTHER FILMS I AM UNABLE TO WATCH BECAUSE I LOVE THE BOOK TOO MUCH
1. The Time Traveller’s Wife
2. The Golden Compass (Northern Lights)
3. The French Lieutenant’s Woman
4. The Grapes Of Wrath (even though I know the John Ford 1940 version is an acclaimed masterpiece)
5. The Narnia books
The Book Thief is a beautifully told story, which will make you laugh, cry and fall in love with the characters. It offers the perfect reading experience.
Phil Ramage, Shanklin, Isle of Wight
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