Monday, July 21, 2008

Marcus Zuzak: The Book Thief

This is the only book I've read for ages. Unless re-reading some Laurie King or Kathy Reichs while nursing Junior to sleep counts. I have been only working. *sigh* Also, one-and-a-half-year-olds never stop walking, so you can't sit peacefully and read when you ARE home. Or rather, out playing with them.

My sister lent me this, she said it was quite sad but not completely depressing. And so it isn't. It's about a young girl in Nazi Germany, just before the war. Her parents are dissidents, and she gets placed with foster parents (presumably forcibly, i.e. her mother is sent away afterwards). She becomes very close to them, especially her new father. He is also a bit of a dissident, who has repainted Jewish houses after they've been vandalized. (So why would they be permitted to foster children? Bit odd really.) He teaches her to read, using her first stolen book.

One day a Jew turns up on their doorstep. He is the son of Papa's friend from the trenches, and Papa has promised to help. They hide him in the cellar, and he and the girl become friends.

Okay, so the end is very sad. I do cry when the town gets bombed and all those people die. But on the whole I'm not tremendously pleased with this novel. I've been trying to pin-point why... I think it's due to a lot of small things. For one thing, the novel is narrated by Death. And I'm sorry, but I've read too much Terry Pratchett, so that just becomes weird. I keep reading Death's narration in small caps and expecting one-liners. (Well, the effect wore off after 2/3 of the book, but it was a persistent feeling.) For another, the author has written about Germans and their wartime suffering, but seems a little unwilling to admit this. He seems to feel a need to emphasise that the suffering of the Jews was much worse. And I can't help feeling that - yes? We know. Surely you don't think that Holocaust revisionists are going to read this and use your novel as proof for their mad "history" theories of you don't point out several times that the Germans as a collective were responsible for the concentration camps? I think I'm being a little unfair, but that's how I read it when I was reading it. I wanted a little more balance, somehow. A little more artistic daringness - I wanted Zuzak to dare to NOT compare sufferings, but instead just describe it. Because he is a very talented, a very good writer, don't get me wrong. Thirdly, I was annoyed with a slight preoccupation with throwing in some German words and then translating them. It annoys me. It's something people do who don't really speak the language but need to put bits in for local flair, and I think Zuzak's better than that.

It is recommendable though. A strong début (I think it's the début). Very.

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