by Craig Wright
For me, there are two hallmarks to every great novel; it needs to entirely pull you into the plot, and it needs to do the same thing every time you open it.
Everyone will have their own list of books that meet these criteria. Top of mine? Easy.
Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a truly exceptional work of fiction. Set against the backdrop of World War Two, the novel centres around child protagonist Liesel Meminger as she grows up with her foster family in Nazi Germany.
The character of Liesel is a masterstroke by Zusak. If you ask any number of people for their immediate thoughts on any war, let alone World War Two, the answers are likely to be similar in nature – conflict, death and tragedy. Whilst The Book Thief deals with all of these aspects and more, the employment of a child protagonist means that Zusak is able to place all the grim realities of war into a supporting role, and instead allows Zusak to focus on the development of Liesel as not just a character, but a fully-fledged, believable, human being.
It’s not just Liesel, though. Each and every character within Zusak’s narrative is developed to masterful precision. Whether it’s Rudy Steiner’s “hair the colour of lemons” or Hans Hubermann’s accordion performance, the genuine emotions of the fugitive Jew Max Vandenburg or the wooden-spoon wielding Rosa, you feel a genuine connection to the narrative, imagining yourself in the same surroundings in which Liesel finds herself.
For all the brilliance of Zusak’s character creation, however, his plot is more than a match. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve read the book – and believe me, I’ve read it multiple times – there are certain passages that you never tire of joyously poring over. Without spoiling any of the novel’s main twists and turns, the story behind Max is wonderful, whilst “a chocolate coloured sky” is a phrase I never get bored of reading.
As if that wasn’t enough, how about the novel’s narrator – Death himself?
As an English student and veritable bibliophile, I read a lot, and I am yet to come across a narrator as perfect as Zusak’s. Interjecting with humorous anecdotes, subtle quips and voicing the reader’s thoughts are just some of the ways that this wonderful creation manifests itself in Zusak’s novel.
I could probably write another few hundred words on The Book Thief, but I’d much rather tell you one more thing – go out, buy it, and read it for yourself. You will not regret it.