What started out as what I thought was just going to be another piece of historical fiction set in Germany during WW2 turned out to be one of the most beautifully written pieces of prose I have ever read. It’s not until you get about halfway through the book that you begin to realize just how much thought and careful planning went into the writing of this novel. Every sentence is carefully crafted to evoke a sense of imagery and immerse you in the world of Liesel Meminger.
Zusak makes an interesting and deliberate choice to narrate the book from the point of view of Death. Death is a character who sort of, objectively views the world and everything that happens in it. For some reason, which may or may not be revealed later on in the book, Death finds itself fascinated with the life of Liesel Meminger; an 11 year old orphan, more or less, who is dropped off to live with foster parents at the beginning of the book.
Liesel eventually grows accustomed to her new life, makes friends with Rudy Steiner (a boy who lives on her street) and becomes obsessed with reading – by way of stealing – books. One day Liesel’s life is changed when her family decides to harbor a Jewish man, escaping German Nazis, in their basement. Max Vandenberg quickly becomes quite close to Liesel and her family, and shows his love for Liesel by making books for her out of scrap materials. As the war progresses, it becomes more and more dangerous for the family to protect Max, and the consequences are high.
This book is highly descriptive, in very figurative ways, so if that’s not your cup of tea, don’t bother. There are also these random interjections, or asides, from death that interrupt the narration on almost every page and it can get quite annoying after a while. It was difficult to swallow at first, but once I got into the book, I let it consume me and actually loved how detailed it was with the descriptions. Some of my favourite examples are:
“‘Will you shut your trap, Steiner?’ It was a shout delivered as a whisper.” p. 131
“The mayor’s wife, who never spoke, simply stood in her bathrobe, her soft fluffy hair tied back into a short tail. A draft made itself known. Something like the imagined breath of a corpse.” p. 132
“When Liesel looked back on the events of her life, those nights in the living room were some of the clearest memories she had. She could see the burning light on Max’s eggshell face and even taste the human flavour of his words. The course of his survival was related, piece by piece, as if he were cutting each part out of him and presenting it on a plate.” p. 218
Upon completion, I feel like this is one of the most beautifully written books of all time, but the character development and depth was slightly lacking, especially for the main character, Liesel. It was an enjoyable journey, but not one that left me thinking about what just happened. Without giving any spoilers, I would say that the ending was sort of anti-climactic for me, almost because I knew what was going to happen early on. The author sort of spoils the book for you while you’re reading but it was thoroughly enjoyable and I would recommend it to anyone who likes overly descriptive prose and sad stories.