Markus Zusak’s, The Book Thief, is my painfully chosen favourite from Angus and Robertson’s Top 100. Painful primarily because since reading this book, my passion for reading has been reignited, therefore I now look with love at several of the books on this list.
The Book Thief was highly recommended to me by one well-read friend, shortly before it was given to me as a gift by another in early 2009.
Having grown up listening to stories about World War II from my English parent’s – of gas masks and evacuations, of bunkers and blackouts – World War II literature had interested me from an early age. I am sure this must have been the case for many in my generation, particularly those with European immigrant parents who had seen and lived through what seemed at times, distant fables to their sheltered offspring, growing up in peaceful Australia.
By 2009, with so many additional conflicts to be reflected on, it all seemed so long ago. I wasn’t sure I could again be gripped by a setting, which I had read of or watched in so many formats – book, television and film – before.
The writing style and the abstractions, in particular the use of ‘Death’ as the narrator drew me in immediately. Absorbing the concept of death as a part of life was profound, particularly in a period of history where there was such extensive and horrific loss of life.
The simplicity of the value and impact of words, and the broader fascination with learning was arresting. I was drawn in, not only by each of the characters through their compelling traits both good and evil, but also the observation of life from the perspective of Death.
Markus was playful with words and language and I liked the unique leading excerpts that would appear mid dialogue, as ‘Death’ took a moment to draw our attention away from the obvious. It was like he enticed us to re-evaluate our perspective. However we were presently looking at the situation at hand, we were drawn to consider it from a different angle.
This was a fundamental characteristic of the book. I loved the alternative style of writing, the fascinating reworking to create an utterly original perspective on not only World War II but also other conflicts and the broad impacts on human life collectively.
I cried at the end of the book. No, I sobbed. I felt like I had loved, laughed, lived and died through the lives of the characters in a way that no other written story had ever evoked in me.
Needless to say I have encouraged many others to read this wonderful piece of literature as well and am yet to hear of anyone who hasn’t shared my heart felt response to the magic of the story telling.
The Australian Literature Review