The Book Thief

It was an airport impulse buy. You know the sort of thing � grab a book for the trip, not too big or you can�t pack it or read it comfortably � at least in economy.

�

I should have read the blurb on the back properly first, I reckoned later, or I wouldn't have bought it. I steer clear of books about Nazi Germany as they trouble my mind too much. I've read enough to be sickened by the whole period.


However all I saw was the grabby title and the back cover phrase "love affair with books and words" along with review quotes saying "beautiful and important", "wonderful page-turner" and "poised to become a classic".

 

When I started reading it I wished I had bought something, anything, else. Twenty or so pages in although I was awed by the strangest, most unique use of words and language I have read in years, it had me totally confused.

 

What was it all about - even in whose voice was it written? The layout, with quotes and headings, had me baffled too.

 

Dubbing it as experimental and way too avant-garde for leisure reading, I almost tossed it. Closing it, I noticed "hugely ambitious" and "life-changing" on the cover and decided to give it one last chance and read a few more pages.

 

Slowly the storyline cleared, I deduced the storyteller's identity and inevitably became mesmerised by Zusak's amazing prose which turns language on its head and colours it in zany hues.

 

Markus Zusak is a Sydney writer, born in 1975, long after the Holocaust, yet there are hints he has a closer association with it than he spells out. It is a simple tale of an abandoned child who steals books, a simple German couple who take her in, and a Jewish man on whom they take pity. All this while hell is overturning their land.

 

Who knows how common these acts of generosity and bravery were amongst the Germans who never made the history books. I suspect there were many. The Book Thief is lifechanging, less about stolen goods and so much more about the gifts of the human spirit in the very worst of situations. And told in the most original and beautiful way.

 

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Picador, paperback, 2008, $19.95. Number 1 International Bestseller, available from most good bookstores.

 

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