The first time I came into ‘contact’ with this book was in 2011, when the new English teacher decided to read us a passage on the fourth page, written from Death’s perspective:
Of course, an introduction.A beginning.
Where are my manners?
I could introduce myself properly, but ti’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough, and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A colour will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.
I remember being enthralled and intrigued, and floored by the idea of using Death as the narrator, and that day, for some odd reason, has left an imprint on my mind. However, I didn’t know the name of the book, and even years after buying The Book Thief and knowing that it was that book, nothing spurred me to open and patiently sit down to read it.
Let me just say this; it has been one long year since I’ve read a book in one sitting, and I have never been moved enough by a book to cry. But, by the time I reached the end of the novel, it was two o’clock in the morning and I was bawling in bed, snivelling miserably over my torn up heart.
Don’t be fooled; this book is a Holocaust book, among the hundreds of hundreds written on this grave subject. Obviously this informs the emotional impact this book has even before you’ve opened it, but Zusak utilizes this to his advantage, creating characters so vivid and so occupied (at times) by events and circumstances other than the Holocaust that when the final punch of death is thrown, it is an absolute knock-out.
While Liesel Meminger is the protagonist, the two characters whose loss I could not bear were Hans Hubermann and Rudy Steiner.
Her father Hans, without revealing too much, was the most perfectly flawed man I’ve ever read. This is hugely due to the way Zusak juxtaposed his descriptions of Hans as a gentle, almost heroic figure against Hans’ actions, which betray him as a man whose kindness trumps everything else, even survival.
Perhaps this is what made Zusak depict Hans as the man with silver eyes; capable of melting into pools of glinting liquid to flinty, impenetrable walls of argent. He references Hans’ eyes so much, that the image of those eyes will forever be burned into my mind, particularly due to the way Liesel seemed to be entrapped in her father’s pools that he called eyes.
The only other character that made his impact on me was Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s best friend. Now this was a character full of purpose, life and indomitable vivacity. He seems to surpass all sense of moral responsibility; even his ventures in stealing are written with a distinct sense of thrill and desire. Liesel, often too boyish to be distinctly imagined as a standard, weak and poor little girl is complemented by Rudy’s intense and voraciously boyish attitude. It’s what ties them together, intertwines their stories and lifts the book from just a Holocaust novel to a piercing tale of endless desire.