Have You Read ‘The Book Thief?’

So, my heart hurts.

Not in a why-are-you-writing-this-maybe-you-should-call-a-doctor way, but in a tragic, literary way.

Have you read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak? It was published in 2006, right before I finished high school. I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it at 17, but at 31? I’m stunned.

Now, before I go any further, let me preface this review by stating this is a tough book. Anytime an author chooses Nazi Germany as the setting, you can assume it’s going to be gritty and ugly and heartrending.

But the writing is exquisite.

I have no idea how Mr. Zusak wrote those sentences. They’re gorgeous.

One of the first lessons you’re taught (and you attempt to grasp) as a writer is the “show, don’t tell” method. It’s the first thing experienced writers will point out as inexperienced writing during a critique. Here’s an example:

Jane was mad at Tommy. (telling)
Jane stomped up to Tommy and slapped him. (showing)

Easy peasy, right? Obviously not, or we’d all be fantastic writers.

Mr. Zusak has mastered the art of showing in The Book Thief. He would write things like, “Her voice loved him” or “The bun on the back of her head nodded” or “The ashes stumbled off the end of the cigarette.” Those are terrible, half-remembered examples, but I hope you get my drift. They’re beautiful depictions of the world he created, and he made me notice every detail.

Now, a synopsis, sans spoilers (hopefully).

Nazi Germany in 1939 was an unstable place. No one knew this better than Liesel Meminger, an 11-year-old girl who was placed in foster care by her mother. She arrived at her foster parents’ house soon after her little brother died on the train. During his hurried funeral, she stole a copy of The Gravedigger’s Handbook from the cemetery. It was the first of many books stolen, and written and read words would forever impact her life.

Her relationship with her foster parents and the citizens of Himmel Street in Molching, Germany, ebbed and flowed from page to page. Her foster “mama” was a tough, “wardrobe-shaped woman with a cardboard face,” and she loved to curse…in German, obviously. But Liesel quickly fell in love with her “papa,” a tall, silver-eyed man who loved Liesel as his own. Her papa, Hans Hubermann, struggled to comply with the Nazi’s demands, and the family ended up harboring a young Jewish man in their basement for nearly two years.

Oh, and did I mention that Death is the narrator? He’s funnier than I expected, but from 1939 to 1945, he was tired–oh, so tired–of working.

In conclusion, I don’t think it’s possible to skip happily through a novel with this kind of setting and gravity. It’s hard and cruel, but I don’t think we should avoid tough books, especially those set in our own history. And especially in our obscenely entitled America of today (sigh), I think those horrific times need to be remembered and honored.

I loved this book. Just listening to it is making me a better writer. I truly loved the audio book. Allan Corduner narrated, and the second his smoky, Jude-Law-esque accent came on, I cheered aloud in my minivan. He did a fantastic job.

Whew. Now to read something light and fluffy to recover.

Name a book that stayed with you for weeks or months. For me, those tend to be the toughest, but usually most worthwhile reads.

Currently Reading:
Well, since I literally sat in my driveway to finish the last tracks of The Book Thief, then sprinted inside to make a hot cuppa while pecking out this post, I’m not 100% certain where I’m heading next. I’ve been wanting to read Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor for awhile. Her trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, stayed with me for weeks. It was creative and gritty, and I enjoyed it (because I like YA fantasy).

I am reading K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development. It’s super helpful when attempting to write lovable, unforgettable characters, but it’s a bit more textbook-y than what I usually share in this “currently reading” section.

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