The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one text which caught me off guard. There was a lot of hype about this novel and I was not sure it could possibly live up to it. I was shocked to discover not only did the book match the hype, it blew it clean away.
Zusak has crafted a delicate and beautiful story set amongst the worst atrocities in our history. The main character is a young girl named Liesel whose father changes her life when he gives her a book called "The Grave Diggers Handbook". She becomes obsessed with reading to escape the brutality of the world around her. After the death of her mother and brother, young Liesel is sent to live with relatives she barely knows who ask her to keep the most dangerous of secrets - they are harboring a hidden Jewish man in Nazi Germany during the depths of the war.
The bond Liesel forms with other characters is poignant and wonderfully written. Yet, the most brilliant part of the book is that, quite simply, the reader knows what ultimate tragedy is on the horizon. How, you may ask, does the reader know? The entire story is narrated by Death - a weary, worn out traveller who has seen enough horror to last him an eternity. Death tells us he meets Liesel three times in her life and each time, tragedy has befallen her.
Yet, when those moments of anguish come for Liesel, they are moving and so shattering that the effect on the reader is not diminished in the slightest by the foreshadowing. In fact, the final twist is so gut-wrenching, harrowing and powerful the reader may have a hard time making it through. Yet, there are moments of brightness which cut through the gloom and some of the supporting characters are fantastically drawn and totally hilarious.
This is a story about the power of human strength, and how we can draw on our resources at unexpected times. It is also a story of tragedy and death, and the evil humanity is capable of. This is a story I cannot recommend more highly.