This book sat on my shelf since January. I scanned the blurb and amassed the key words “Death” “Nazi” and “War” and wrongly decided to delay reading until Christmas festivities were well and truly put to bed. I made a mistake. I should have read it immediately and spent the following six months pestering all of you to do the same.
Set in 1939 Germany, Death narrates the story in small broken chapters with small broken characters. He shows us Liesel; the nine year old protagonist who grows up more than anybody should over three or four years in the confines of oppression, fear and misplaced hatred.
Despite this, it is the trickles of compassion, hope and love which burn brightest in the novel. It is Mama’s put-down’s and Papa’s devotion, his quiet defiance in a world where human decency looks like weakness. It is her best friend Rudy Steiner’s strife for a kiss. Death looks in occasionally, he makes every character appear vulnerable. Something about the young girl fascinates him but he’s getting busier and busier elsewhere. Alas, he eventually meets all of us once..
The prose is easy to follow and the chapters really short. Get used to Death’s quirky little narrations and side-notes. If at first it feels unnatural – watch it charm you. Markus Zusak portrays the setting of Nazi Germany very well, there are some worrying similarities to our world, how fear and anger can be manipulated by soundbites and opportunists.
It’s a dark book within a dark (real) world though you are honestly just as likely to laugh as you are to cry. Death is final and this book delivers finality. You feel satisfied with the answers. Ultimately, I took comfort that, if the world really does have Liesel’s and Papa’s and Rudy Steiner’s and if Death trulty is anything like this fellow, then it’s a life worth living (and dying).