I’m glad I did. Although it had a plodding start, I soon found myself immersed in the story of a feisty, voracious book reader/stealer by the name of Liesel in Nazi Germany. Liesel lives with her foster parents Hans Hubermann and Rosa who are concealing a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement. His friendship with Liesel, as well as the relationship between Hans and Liesel forms the core of the story. The characters are immensely likeable, even those who seem detestable at first and it is easy to find yourself absorbed in the miniature of their daily lives. Narrated by Death, this story isn’t exactly a walk through the park: lives are lost, there is abject poverty and all manner of wartime horrors. At times it appears to be ruminating on the human condition, on both the cruelties and kindness that our race is capable of. The use of Death as a narrator helps to provide some distance from these atrocities; at the same time, his observations of Liesel’s interactions with her family and friends suggest that he can be moved by compassion and tenacity.
What I like most about the novel is the use of language; how the author Markus Zukas manages to string together arresting sentences with such simple words, for example: “Her wrinkles were like slander”, or “If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter and bread with only the scent of jam spread out on top of it.” They make the novel a breeze to read, despite the subject matter and length. The end product is an ambitious but triumphant piece of work.