I don't know whether the sick feeling in my stomach is from how much I just cried, or whether it's something else entirely. I don't know how to respond to this book, this brilliant, brilliant book.
Even saying that feels like lying. Because it is such a good book, but to say things like “it was wonderful” or “I really enjoyed it” feels wrong. Because there's nothing wonderful or enjoyable about it, not in a literal sense. I can't remember the parts that made me smile, though I'm sure they exist. They're overshadowed by the end of the world and the last words of Death.
The Book Thief is narrated by Death, a creature who looks like your reflection in the mirror and is haunted by humanity. To my knowledge, Death has never before been depicted in such a way—such a human way. In The Book Thief, Death is not evil; it is not cruel. It suffers from its work; becomes buried under the burden. It needs to find distractions. Before Liesel, its primary source of comfort was in colour. After Liesel, it is held up by her book.
I can't say that the whole book is wonderful—the events are too ugly for that—but there are some truly wonderful characters. I think my favourite is Rudy, but on the other hand, I love all of them; Rudy and Rosa and Hans and Max and Liesel and Ilsa Hermann. And Death. Throughout the book, they slowly but surely expose themselves to you, until you know everything you need to know about them. Some of them grab your heart right at the beginning, like Liesel and Papa. Others take longer to get to know you, like Rosa and Ilsa. But you know them all by the end.
Just in time to have your heart completely demolished.
Quote time. I have a lot of bookmarks. For a lot of different reasons. I think I'll just list them. A couple of them are the interjections of Death, like sidenotes in a textbook. Like the first.
***A DEFINITION NOT FOUND ***
IN THE DICTIONARY
Not leaving: an act of trust and love,
often deciphered by children. --pg. 37
Many of the quotes that stood out to me were for literary reasons, as is often the case when I read a brilliant book. So I'm not going to explain most of them; I'll just let you figure out for yourself why I chose them.
For now, Rudy and Liesel made their way onto Himmel Street in the rain.
He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.
She was the book thief without the words.
Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain. --pg. 80
*** A GUIDED TOUR OF SUFFERING ***
To your left,
perhaps your right,
perhaps even straight ahead,
you find a small black room.
In it sits a Jew.
He is scum.
He is starving.
He is afraid.
Please—try not to look away. --pg. 138
When Liesel left that day, she said something with great uneasiness. In translation, two giant words were struggled with, carried on her shoulder, and dropped as a bungling pair at Ilsa Hermann's feet. They fell off sideways as the girl veered with them and could no longer sustain their weight. Together, they sat on the floor, large and loud and clumsy.
*** TWO GIANT WORDS ***
I'M SORRY --pg. 146
When Max heard the news, his body felt like it was being screwed up into a ball, like a page littered with mistakes. Like garbage.
Yet each day, he managed to unravel and straighten himself, disgusted and thankful. Wrecked, but somehow not torn to pieces. --pg. 184
The scrawled words of practice stood magnificently on the wall by the stairs, jagged and childlike and sweet. They looked on as both the hidden Jew and the girl slept, hand to shoulder.
German and Jewish lungs.
Next to the wall, The Standover Man sat, numb and gratified, like a beautiful itch at Liesel Meminger's feet. --pg. 208
The first time Death tells us a heartbreaker in advance (Rudy, in this case):
Of course, I'm being rude. I'm spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don't have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.
There are many things to think of.
There is much story. --pg. 243
For Max Vandenburg, there was cool cement and plenty of time to spend with it.
The minutes were cruel.
Hours were punishing.
Standing above him at all moments of awakeness was the hand of time, and it didn't hesitate to wring him out. It smiled and squeezed and let him live. What great malice there could be in allowing something to live. --pg. 250
*** TWENTY MINUTES LATER: ***
A GIRL ON HIMMEL STREET
She looks up. She speaks in a whisper.
“The sky is soft today, Max. The clouds
are so soft and sad, and...” She looks
away and crosses her arms. She thinks
of her papa going to war and grabs
her jacket at each side of her body.
“And it's cold, Max. It's so cold...” --pg. 419
There were times in the first parts of the book where I felt a little bit teary. Especially in the writings and drawings of Max-- The Standover Man and The Word Shaker. But when did I actually start crying? Oh, probably about the same time as Death:
And I'm not too great at that sort of comforting thing, especially when my hands are cold and the bed is warm. I carried him softly through the broken street, with one salty eye and a heavy, deathly heart. With him, I tried a little harder. I watched the contents of his soul for a moment and saw a black-painted boy calling the name Jesse Owens as he ran through an imaginary tape. I saw him hip-deep in some icy water, chasing a book, and I saw a boy lying in bed, imagining how a kiss would taste from his glorious next-door neighbour. He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It's his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry. --pg. 531
And some more tears pouring down...
“Wake up, Rudy,” and now, as the sky went on heating and showering ash, Liesel was holding Rudy Steiner's shirt by the front. “Rudy, please.” The tears grappled with her face. “Rudy, please, wake up, Goddamn it, wake up, I love you. Come on, Rudy, come on, Jesse Owens, don't you know I love you, wake up, wake up, wake up...” --pg. 535
I have no more bookmarks, but I can tell you that I was full-out crying for the rest of the book. When Liesel finds Rosa and Hans, her mama and papa... there are no words. Not for me, anyway.
I have read several other Holocaust stories in my life. None of them has been quite like this. This book was not what I expected when I read the back cover or when people recommended it to me. It was entirely different, and so much more. When I read it, I would look at the page number I was at and be shocked, because I hadn't registered the pages going by. I'm sitting here, trying to think of a way to end this review; trying to think of something I can say to wrap this book up. But I've got nothing. Sorry. Wow.
Definitely added to my future library.