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?