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The Book Thief Came into My House

I didn’t like reading it, but I loved it.

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.


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May. 20th, 2006 05:49 am (UTC)
I am very interested to read this book. I really admire writers who can do that with words.

But (mind you, without having read it), I don't think I want to write like it. Some of the writers I admire the most for their words are the writers whose books I read slowly, stopping at a sentence and going "wow!"--but the words also get in the way of the story, for me. I'm so busy admiring the incredible words that plot and character become secondary. Character is most important to me. I want to convey the incredible scope of human relationships and emotion. Plot is just a place to take them, words are just a way to show it.

My favorite writers have a balance--a great sentence here and there, but often, incredibly simple sentences--even ones that a crit group might tear up these days, TOO simple ("The noun was adjective"). Great characters. Well-paced, but not overbearing, plot.

But then you bring up a good point about crit groups sometimes being detrimental... ahh, but I need to go to bed! I've already been rambling on and on in this comment...
May. 20th, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC)
It's a beautiful story. I'm curious to hear your opinion, once you've read it.
May. 20th, 2006 01:17 pm (UTC)
Brutal and beautiful.

Glad you read it through.

I'm for being brave.
May. 20th, 2006 02:19 pm (UTC)
Part of me quails at starting another WWII book right after this one.

But I've been so excited about reading Suite Francaise that I'm going to, anyway.
May. 20th, 2006 04:15 pm (UTC)
Monique, that is one of the most compelling reviews I've read in a long time. I loved the Messenger. I love the way Zusak writes. And I'm now number 43 in line on the hold list at the library. Perhaps a run over to Powell's is in order? Of course, when is a run over to Powell's ever NOT in order... :-D

"Do we want to write like Zusak, taking chances and stringing our word-jewels together so that they make the reader catch his breath?"

Yes, yes!

Thanks for this lovely post this Saturday morning.
May. 20th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)
I choose Zusak, although I'm sure I'm not worthy to be in the same sentence. And clearly his work is marketable and publishable and builds his brand. Maybe that's the real message of Zusak to writers: Be your own real self.
May. 20th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
Wow - I'll have to add it to my rapidly growing reading list. I love books that change you in some way.
May. 27th, 2006 08:25 pm (UTC)
Hurray, so glad to have another LJ friend who loves Markus. I got your comment days ago and just now got around to friending you back. :) Thanks for the add! I look forward to reading more posts from you!
Jun. 6th, 2006 02:33 am (UTC)
Hi there. May your son someday enjoy it as much as you did.
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