Book Re-Reviewed: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
I accidentally started a book club. Back in November, I did a program at my library where I led a discussion of Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Only a few people attended, but they were all interested in continuing with further book discussions. Because my library branch only has the financial backing to do one program per month, I had to take the book club project into my own hands. I chose The Book Thief as our first official book because I loved it so much and wanted to share it with other people. The discussion is on Thursday, so I'm not sure yet how many people read it and liked it. However, my mother read it and absolutely loved it. So I hope that means other people will enjoy it, too.
So anyway, I had to reread The Book Thief. Luckily, it's such a good book that I don't mind digging into it again only six months after my first reading of it over the summer. I won't bore you with details of what the book is about or my basic feelings about it. I covered that pretty well in my first review. Let's just say it's a tremendous book and leave it at that.
I've always believed that good books should be read at least twice. I always get more out of the second reading than the first because I'm not worried about plot anymore. Instead, I can enjoy the language or the dialogue or the character development for its own sake. This time around, I was really impressed by just how damn ambitious this book is. I don't think this novel is perfect by any means; it gets maybe a little too sentimental at the end and sometimes the writing style can get a little repetitive. But you have to give Zusak some major credit for taking on this kind of project and pulling it off so beautifully.
I think the reason the book works so well lies in its narration. Making an inhuman figure like Death the narrator of a book about the nuances of language and humanity is a pretty tricky prospect. Zusak uses it to his advantage, making his strange, choppy style (which can even be off-putting in his earlier books like Fighting Ruben Wolfe) come from the voice of someone who can't help but look at things in an episodic, off-handed kind of way. I applaud Zusak for taking risks that even the most admired masters of literary fiction don't even attempt.
The other thing that struck me when reading this book again was the relationship between Liesel and Rudy. In my original review for the book, I gushed about how much I loved Rudy and his friendship with Liesel, but somehow I missed just how truly bittersweet the whole thing turns out to be. There's so much regret and lost opportunity by the end of their story that it made me cry all over again. Having read the book once and knowing everything that was coming made their scenes together towards the end just that much more heartbreaking. There's a scene where Rudy and Liesel are hanging out in his father's shop at Christmas that almost hurts to read. The amazing thing is that the bittersweet elements don't come solely out of the fact that [SPOILER ALERT] one of them eventually dies. It also comes out of the fact that they are just at that age where first crushes and missed opportunity go hand in hand. Fourteen year olds are supposed to feel too scared to act on their emotions, and Zusak understands this perfectly. He seriously gets everything right about their situation, and it makes the book just that much more wonderful and sad. I am super-excited to see what he does in the future. When the official date for his next book is announced, I will be pre-ordering it months in advance.
To be brief, this book remains as amazing as ever. I definitely did not regret re-reading it so soon.