So Markus Zusak's been on International Bestseller lists for years. This weekend I found out why.
I truly 'got into this book' one I 'got into the voice of death' - a truly unique narrative style - yet unfortunately not one inextricably linked to the Nazi movement therein, and apart from the odd zieg heil, could be heard in any other (modern) conflict.
Why did I feel like I was reading a warning manual rather than a piece of historical fiction?
The adventures of Liesel Meminger were particularly poignant for me; my grandmother, also Liesel, was about the same age, in the same location and living through very similar circumstances in mandated Hitler Youth - albeit (as far as I am aware), she was not hiding a Jew in the basement, much as I would've been exceptionally proud had she done so. I don't think she had a basement though.
An aspect I particularly liked of The Book Thief's life, was there was no one 'bad-guy' -
not every German enjoyed their marching and ration book for 'the cause'. The English struck fear during the raids at night as much as the domestic parades of captives during the day, or overzealous saluting neighbours. Growing up hearing both sides of the story (my Liesel married an English soldier), I think Zusak has handled complex motivations sensitively and with truth. Threats of the time came from all angles, including neighbourhood bullies and overbearing school mistresses.
Normal life prevailed in extraordinary circumstances. Until there was no normal any more.
The futility of war (and genocide) was a particularly well expressed theme - everything else serving to reinforce this **woefully politically overlooked** point. Were more books like this read by more people, do you think, would people simply decide not to engage with warmongering, fearmongering death merchants known as international governments?
And there I was promising not to get all political... Shoot.
I will always have a tear for Rudy, and Liesel's Standover Man, every time I hear an accordion's sigh... and every other soul Zusak's narrator encounters in such circumstances, now and in the future.