Monday, October 25, 2010

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

This is another one of those books that we're supposed to believe is a real book written by a fictional character. No, I'm sorry: the real writings of a fictional character retold by Death.

Sigh... Where do I start.

"The Book Thief" is certainly "hugely ambitious" as The New York Times says, but is most certainly not "life changing." It's Holocaust literature. I hate to be crass, but it is the same old same old. It told me nothing new about the Holocaust nor did it present anything about WWII in a new, unique, or interesting light.

*HOWEVER* I will say that this is an excellent book for young adults (which is what it is and how it is cataloged). But if your mental capacity is beyond that of the 5-minute attention span variety, don't read this book. Well, you can read it, but don't say I didn't warn you.

I have so many issues with this book; the biggest of which is style. Stylistically, this book is terrible. One of the discussion guide questions is "How Does Zusak use the literary device of foreshadowing to pull the reader into the story?" Miserably. He doesn't foreshadow. He has Death literally spell out what happens 6 months or years in the future and then says something flippant like, But I'll talk more about that latter. It's annoying. It doesn't pull me into the story. If anything it's a turn-off.

And I don't need a preview of every chapter. Each section lists the chapters within it. Why? So I can estimate how long the section will be and how much time it will take me to get through it? And there is no fluidity to the chapters. 20 lines, page break. 12 lines, page break. 54 lines, page break. The story is initially told in cloudy, vague snippets. There is no way to piece together a coherent picture of what is going on. It isn't until around pate 170 that a story really begins to be told, and then it takes another 100+ pages for that story to be any good.

For a book focusing on the power of words, Zusak has a pretty poor grip on language. It's like he's trying too hard. I'll throw in a lot of unnecessary swearing and blaspheming because then the kids will think the book is edgy and cool. His metaphors are terrible. It's as if he was trying out the concept of pathetic fallacy for the first time, and continually failed. His images are almost there, and then they fall pathetically and sometimes confusingly short. I honestly tried to overlook it, but after a while I just couldn't; it became to much. Does he even understand the difference between a noun and an adjective? "the darkness sky", "kindness silver eyes." These are elementary mistakes. He's not trying to be new and edgy with language, he is misusing it all together.

Here are some other examples of what I could not ignore:

The book was "like a beautiful itch at Liesel Meminger's feet."
"It chores me."
"His muscles felt like cake."
"something ridiculed her throat."
"a miscarriaged pause" (Is that supposed to be a play on a pregnant pause? Even so, it doesn't work.)
"Her expression stroked the man on his face."

It's just so unpolished and, well, juvenile.

Another thing I couldn't stand were Death's little interruptions. On the whole, they were patronizing and unhelpful.  This one was particularly supercilious:

***An Observation***
A pair of train guards.
A pair of grave diggers.
When it comes down to it, one of them called the shots.
The other did what he was told.
The question is, what if the other is a lot more than one?

Thanks for the painfully obvious not-even-veiled allusion to the beginnings and operations of the Nazi party. I could have figured that out on my own. Also, I didn't need Death to point out exactly why Liesel stole the first book. But yes, maybe because it is young adult literature the author leads the readers more deliberately to his own conclusions.

Death in general bothered me. Don't use Death as the narrator, as a real person. Saying if I want to know what Death looks like just look in the mirror. Giving Death a physical heart. It's too far-fetched. I believe in suspension of disbelief, but that is just asking too much of me. Also, Death's obsession with colors and the half-baked descriptions of a day as a color serve no purpose. Take it out.

"The Book Thief" received monumental praise and several awards; I don't see it. Again, it is a great young adult book. So in that respect I understand the accolades. But there is nothing new about the way this book presents WWII. The mechanics are faulty. If your interest in literature exceeds that of a 16 or 17-year-old, skip this book.

No comments: