17 February 2010

The Book Thief: let the discussion begin!

For those of you who haven't yet read Mark Zusak's The Book Thief, but intend to, you might want to stop reading this blog for a little while, as there are bound to be spoilers as the MMPL librarians discuss the text. Those of you who have read it, please feel free to participate in the discussion with your comments.

I almost put this book down after the first few pages; I have to admit to having a problem with books in which the narrator blatantly directs the course of action and tells the reader what's going to happen, or how to observe something, or whatever. I know that there isn't any actual objective narration in a story--the author is always directing the course of the narrative--but I dislike the sense of overt manipulation of the reader in the use of a narrator like Death in this story.

But I persevered, and I felt that Death became somewhat less obtrusive as the author warmed up to his own story. I'm still not entirely sure why this novel needed the expository character of Death; I think it would have been just as moving without him, although the author's idea of Death and how he carries out his job was interesting itself.


  1. I had a very different take on the narrator. I appreciated the presence of Death and felt illuminated by his persona. We are used to fearing and/or demonizing death in our culture, but Death in this setting is benign, a transitional figure, somewhat akin to a midwife. Birth and Death have no agenda, they just are. More on the story later...

  2. Death as a character isn't what bothered me--if fact, I agree with your interpretation above--it was all the interruptions of the story itself. I found the physical act of reading too disjointed with all the headlines and interjections. I wanted to tell Death to be quiet already so I could read the novel!

  3. True, getting used to the physical, on the page writing style did take some time, I had forgotten that. Zusak may have done that to get the attention of younger readers? Have you seen any comments from the author that would give us a clue about how he chose his style for this story?

  4. I liked the narration because it was mostly without prejudice and viewed the people on different sides of the politics of war simply as human beings with the attendant flaws, as well as grace.

    The reader can experience the insanity and devastation with some understanding of how and why these awful things can happen in the individual lives of small communities during wartime.

    As with Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, we feel with and for the individuals, not the politics of the time. The idealism and ultimately the disillusionment are laid bare in both world wars.