It’s the kind of book that changes you. I’m different now.
jbknowles said a few months ago that it was the most brutal book she’d ever read.
Markus Zusak’s previous book, I Am the Messenger is a fantastic, funny, thought-provoking rollercoaster of a romp of a head-scratcher. It’s best to trust-and-let-go while you read it.
The Book Thief is a different animal.
It’s … well, it’s a World War II novel narrated by Death.
But I trust Markus Zusak.
I opened the book with relish and settled in. After more than a hundred pages, I had these thoughts:
“Where is the story?”
“This is not a YA book, this is an adult book.” (I learned in John Green’s NYT review that it was, in fact, marketed as an adult book in Zusak’s native Australia.)
“Why does he keep intruding with all these authorial asides?”
I seriously considered putting it down and going back later. After all, I have Suite Francaise waiting for me, and I’m itching to read that. Another WWII book … but with such a twist. If you don’t know the background of this book, you should click on the title and find out.
But I kept reading. Until I was completely hooked and stunned and wanting to call in sick to work so I could finish it. I did finish it this evening.
Now I’m different.
Almost every page made me marvel. This writer is not afraid. He’s not worried about being too bold … describing things in too outrageous a way. He doesn’t have a critique group in his head, fretting, “Not sure the reader will get this.” “Are you certain you want to connect these two ideas?” Zusak puts most writers in the shade.
He makes me want to give up writing, because what’s the point? He’s said everything better than most people ever have or will.
I’m choosing pages at random and offering them to you:
Page 112, about a book-burning: “The orange flames waved at the crowd as paper and print dissolved inside them. Burning words were torn from their sentences.”
Page 270: “The words were flung at her, landing somewhere on the concrete step.”
Page 372, about an air raid: “Outside, the sirens howled at the houses, and the people came running, hobbling, and recoiling as they exited their homes. Night watched. Some people watched it back, trying to find the tin-can planes as they drove across the sky.”
Page 454: “… Liesel tripped on a bump in the floor. A mannequin followed her down. It groped her arm and dismantled in its clothes on top of her.”
Mmmm, don’t those sentences feel luscious in your brain?
And Death! Death, somehow, is an appealing and sympathetic character in Zusak’s hands.
One day my son will read this book, because it’s not going anywhere. It’s going to stick.
Now my question is:
Do we want to write like Zusak, taking chances and stringing our word-jewels together so that they make the reader catch his breath?
Or do we want to write safely and carefully, so that our story is “marketable” and “publishable” and “builds our brand”?
I know what I choose.
But I don’t think I’m brave enough or good enough.
So I’ll keep working with the tools I’ve got, even if their quality is inferior to the really good stuff.