Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Book Thief

By Marcus Zusak

JAMES says:

A girl in Nazi Germany has a cool dad and steals books. For some reason this interests Death.

From the start this book is obviously going for the magical and sentimental tone used so well by writers such as Louis De Bernieres. Not long afterwards you realise that the writer is no Louis De Bernieres. It is a difficult thing to pull off, having a book narrated by Death without it seeming annoying and crass. In fact, one wonders why you would even attempt it. In this case the effect is worsened by a series of lists and asides that seem to suggest that Death is a Nick Hornby fan. I’m not sure if that is a comforting thought.

It seems an admirable idea to have a book featuring an ordinary German family during the Second World War, however the stigma of such times is so great that the author feels the need to show repeatedly and explicitly that the family at the centre of this story are not Nazis. He might as well have made them English and had done with it. The father of the family does work for Jews when no one else will, refuses to join the Nazi party and eventually hides a Jewish man in his basement. Though it is difficult to write about the period without mentioning the Holocaust, it was rather refreshing to have a book which didn’t centre around it and so I found this development rather disappointing.

Something that also became very wearisome during the course of this book was the way that even though it was written in English some phrases would still be in German, then repeated in English. It made proceedings worryingly reminiscent of Chris Claremont-era X-Men. Unglaublich.

This is not to say the overwhelming sentimentality of the book was not effective at some points. The characters were likeable and so when some of them died (given the narrator I don’t think this is spoiling anything) it was very sad. However, the overall impression was of what could have been an interesting study of live under a totalitarian regime in war time just ended up like every other book you have read about WWII, only not as good.

And besides, Death speaks in capitals. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT


P.S. If anyone could recommend an actually good book about life in Nazi Germany, let me know.

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