Must Reads: For anyone who isn’t afraid of death

The Book Thief

The Book Thief is one of those novels that sits you down with one irrefutable command: “Read.”

It also happens to be one of those novels that makes you want to write your own.

The narrator is a morbidly fitting one for a book that takes place in Nazi Germany—Death. Death, surprisingly, does have a heart. And he is as complex and tragic—with a dark sense of humor—as any of the characters whose stories he tells.

Author Markus Zusak on Death as a narrator:

“I thought, ‘Here’s a book set during war. Everyone says war and death are best friends.’ Death is ever-present during war, so here was the perfect choice to narrate The Book Thief. At first, though, Death was too mean. He was supercilious, and enjoying his work too much. He’d say extremely creepy things and delight in all the souls he was picking up… and the book wasn’t working.

So I went to a first-person narration, a simple third-person narration… and six months later I came back to death—but this time, Death was to be exhausted from his eternal existence and his job. He was to be afraid of humans—because, after all, he was there to see the obliteration we’ve perpetrated on each other throughout the ages—and he would now be telling this story to prove to himself that humans are actually worth it.”

The Book Thief

Death’s muse, the book thief herself, is an 11-year-old German girl named Liesel whose brushes and encounters with Death propel the plot. This isn’t solely a plot-driven novel, though. Liesel’s relationship with words, as she feverishly learns to read and write them, plays a big role in this book.

“She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half. Then a chapter. Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or worldly tricks to make us feel better. What good were the words?

She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. ‘What good are the words?’”

The Book Thief was my first read of 2014, and if you haven’t already, I recommend you read it, too.

Have you read The Book Thief? If so—without giving anything away to others—what were your thoughts on it?

Must Reads 
is a new column I intend to make a monthly installment here on WTH. What books—fiction or non—would you recommend I read and review for the series?

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  1. Adding this books to my must read this year. I’m excited to go and see the movie, too.

  2. I am one of the few people who wasn’t wowed by it. I found it incredibly difficult to get involved or interested, Death was the only novelty.

  3. The Book Thief is my absolute favorite book of all time. I first read it when I was 17 and it’s haunted me ever since. I’m so glad I enjoyed the movie, too. Although of course the book is better 😛

  4. I read The Book Thief late last year and I wasn’t as thrilled as everyone else seemed to be with it. While I loved Death as the narrator, there were just too many things about Nazi Germany and growing up in that time period that didn’t ring true to me. Plus the sometimes inaccurate use of German vocabulary was pretty annoying. Maybe growing up, having to talk about WW2 over and over again in almost every school subject had something to do with it but I was pretty meh on it. Plus the pace of the story is so slow. So slow.

  5. This is one of my favorite books. It’s easily in my top ten. I recommend it to everyone because it provides such a different perspective of World War 2. If you get a chance to see the movie, be aware that a lot is missing, but it translated pretty well to the big screen.

  6. I loved this book, mostly for what you’ve mentioned here. I cared deeply about Liesel and her story, but above all else I loved this story for Death and the broader philosophical discussion presented.

  7. The Book Thief is without a doubt my favourite book – and I am a voracious reader, so I have a lot to compare it to. No book has ever elicited that kind of emotional response from me before. When I finished it, I ran to the bathroom and locked myself in while I sobbed for half an hour.

    If you’re interested, Zusak’s other book I Am The Messenger is really wonderful, too; it’s quite different, but very beautiful.

  8. You just won some MAJOR cool points with this post, Cassie! know, more than you already had before. 😛

    The Book Thief is, hands down, my favorite book. It’s probably one of my most read books, too. It’s hauntingly beautiful, don’t you think? Not only is the story amazing, but the narrating is unique and the characters… well, you just fall in love with them all. I really enjoyed the movie too, I have been waiting anxiously for over a year now for it to be released… aaaand, I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry in the movie theatre. 😛

    So happy to hear that you also love this story!!

  9. I read this book a few years ago and really liked it, but can’t remember details. This post brought some of it back. Have you seen it in theaters yet? I still want to.

  10. I am in the middle of reading this now! Hope to finish tomorrow. It will be my second book of 2014. 🙂

  11. This is one of my favorite books, I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Recently I re-read it since the movie was coming out (which was pretty good by the way) and I fell in love with it all over again.

  12. It’s been a couple years since I read TBT but it absolutely destroyed me. In a good way. Glad you liked it! Planning on seeing the movie? (I haven’t.)

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