HERE IS A SMALL FACT
You are going to die.
This is a quote from the first page of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s been on my ‘To Read’ list for ages. The best-selling book was first published some years ago and has since made it into film.
Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, this is the story of Liesel, an orphaned girl who steals books so she can learn to read. If you are wondering how there could possibly be a fresh take on the period, here it is: the narrator is Death.
Death introduces the characters, reveals their back stories, fades scenes in and out. The story is broken up with observations like the one above. This might disturb the momentum, distract or annoy the reader. It doesn’t.
Surprisingly, the voice of Death is not a cold or threatening presence. By turns, he is humorous, ironic, curious. With gentle arms, he carries away the souls of the dead. He watches over Liesel. You get the sense he is just doing his job and this is somehow comforting.
Then there is the language. Here is a sample:
This time I had come for a man of perhaps twenty-four years of age… The plane was still coughing. Smoke was leaking from both its lungs.
When he turned the light on in the small callous washroom that night, Liesel observed the strangeness of her foster father’s eyes. They were made of kindness, and silver. Like soft silver, melting. Liesel, upon seeing those eyes, understood that Hans Hubermann was worth a lot.
About a third of the way through, you realise you’ve forgotten all about the technical stuff and you are immersed in the story. And the surprises keep coming…
Has a book surprised you lately?