Book Review: The Book Thief

I read this book on the plane when I was returning from a trip to the Philippines! I couldn’t sleep and ended up finishing this in tears at 4AM. That earned some concerned looks from the stewardess.

This book is honestly too good to be true, and I can’t wait to see the movie either! This review is also up on my goodreads.

*****SPOILER ALERT***** (not really sure but probably?)

Marcus Zusak’s ‘The book thief’ is a unique book in many ways, but most prominently in its way of narration. Not only does it bring about many revolutionary ways of narrating a situation – sometimes specifically in many words, sometimes tersely, merely giving us simple bullet-point images – but the narrator itself is portrayed in a peculiar light; namely, ‘Death’. At first, it confuses many people, makes us wonder: who is it that is talking? The narrator is obviously talking in a first-person point of view, however he(assuming that the narrator is male(although I seem to recall him referring to himself as a male being so let’s just assume)) seems to have an omniscient view on things, and just happens to be omniscient. So either he’s a superhuman, supernatural being that cannot be explained by rational thought, or just a creepy stalker of the protagonist. Out of conventionality and also because the setting brings along plenty of misery even without a creepy stalker, let’s simply assume that the narrator represents death. And because of that particular detail, much is brought into (forgive the pun)life. It looks at things in a detached and yet still warm perspective. It’s not portrayed as a taker of life: it actually doesn’t have anything to do with the loss of life itself. He is merely a harvester, a clinical observer in the events of a great tragedy. While not partaking in any of the actions itself, Death manages to incorporate itself into the events, a completely dependent variable and yet integral to the entire operation. That was the point in which that caught my eye in the interesting choice in narration.

The other point was that there is no real antagonist here – which mainly serves to only add to the tragedy.
Real life isn’t black and white in any way. A popular ironical statement discovered in the internet gives us this fairly clearly: ‘Whoever killed Hitler was a saint.’ Hitler committed suicide by cyanide. Faced with this fact, another internet user comments, ‘Well, Hitler couldn’t have been all bad – I mean, he killed Hitler.’
Even if this is an ironic statement made for the purpose of humor, it gives us the point. Nobody is really completely evil or completely good. Liesel, the protagonist, isn’t really the most ethical person you’d find around in the world. However, it doesn’t change the fact that she has a kind heart, as evidenced by the fact that she helps Max with genuine care, doesn’t change the fact that she’s merely an innocent young girl who loves the people around her. No matter how harsh or inhumane anyone may seem at first glance, it becomes clearer as the book progresses that it’s not about them: it’s the circumstances, the war, the tensions between the people that had made them into the seemingly-monsters that they are. Even the Nazis aren’t drawn as complete villains: the mass killing that ends up happening isn’t by the hands of Nazis. It is war, the blatant antagonism that is at fault, that causes innocent people to die. This is what causes the heart-crippling sadness. One cannot even blame the ordeal at a fixed enemy: I feel that this was exactly what the writer had intended, to tell us that the big idea is at fault here, the society that blatantly antagonizes each other for no apparent reason but scrabbles for any excuse to justify it, to bring about a fight. It wills us to think, that maybe, even in our own, meager lives, nobody in particular would have been at fault. So the question would be this: where to find the common enemy that wants us to turn against each other?

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