25 September 2007

Marcus Zusak, The Book Thief. 2006, New York: Knopf.

A friend asked why I read children's books. I answered, glibly, "because they can hold more truth." This was before I read The Book Thief.

The Book Thief is a title. It belongs to an adopted German girl during World War II, and later to her story as related to us by Death, who is somehow always nearby. (Incidentally, Death is an informative, entertaining, and completely trustworthy narrator.) She earns the title, but wears it well: she steals books from the mayor's wife, but reads them aloud to get her neighbors through air raids.

But the Book Thief is more than an avid reader. She is also fiercely compassionate and stunningly brave, traits learned from the man she calls Papa, who calms her nightmares, teaches her to read, and hides a Jew in his basement even as others wearing the yellow star are paraded down the street toward Dachau. She must be strong, to survive this story told by Death.

While told from the child's perspective, this is not really a children's book, any more than Anne Frank's diaries are for children. No, The Book Thief is a good book, and maybe an important one; and like any other good book, it is suitable for anyone who wants to keep reading. It holds an awful lot of truth.



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