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I like big books.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak So I'm pretty much emotionally spent and feel completely inadequate to the task of reviewing this book. It's too good. Like reviewing a classic, the first words that come to mind as I sit to write this is, "Who are you to critique a book like this?" It's that good. Most of my favorite books have their great moments. Moments of clear and precise prose that somehow captures reality in some way that has always escaped me, but has been living inside me my entire life. These books relieve pressure for me, because I go my entire life feeling things and observing things that I can't quite put my finger on and express adequately and when I read the right turn of phrase, the perfect reaction to some aspect of the human condition that we all understand, I'm finally able to say "That's it," and let it go. My favorite books find ways of relieving that pressure of held experiences and emotions in bits and pieces. The Book Thief finds a way to relieve them all. In 550 pages of pure poetry, The Book Thief took each and every one of those remaining inexpressible sentiments and set them free.

Liesel Meminger is taken in by the Hubermann family after tragic circumstances (and what isn't tragic about Nazi Germany?) force her mother into accepting the fact that she can no longer care for her children. The shock of this early experience is accompanied by the strange discovery in the snow of Liesel's first book, the appropriately titled The Gravedigger's Handbook at the hastily thrown together funeral of her brother Werner. The desire for distraction creates in Liesel a desire to bury herself in its pages. There's only one problem. Liesel is ten years old and Liesel can't read. Haunted by her past and the ambiguity of the circumstances that tore her family apart and thrust her into a new home on Himmel Strasse, Liesel is visited by nightmares that wake her nightly. Luckily for her, she wakes into the arms of the kindest, most gentle man that has ever graced the pages of literature: Hans Hubermann, who teaches Liesel to read one word and one night at a time from The Gravedigger's Handbook, sparking in Leisel a passion for words and writing that leads her down a noble path of criminality with her good friend Rudy Steiner (also one of the finest characters ever written).

The Book Thief is a tragedy of really epic proportions, but it's also unquestionably one of the most triumphant novels I've ever read in my entire life. Narrated by Death, it offers a great perspective on the human condition with all its petty shortcomings and exultant moments of kindness. This duality of humanity is something the narrator struggles to hold in his mind, as do we all. How can a species be capable of such massive evil and such ordinary greatness at the same time? The novel's narrative structure is unique and refreshing with poetic asides and observations by perhaps the one entity with the perspective necessary to tell such a small, human tale in the midst of one of the greatest whirlwinds of humanity in all of its sad history. The prose is nothing short of poetic without being excessively lofty or cloying and each and every metaphor is inventive, insightful and captivating; they catch in your mind and force you to roll them over and over again, until you're four pages past and realize you haven't been paying attention to anything since. It's a book that commands your undivided attention. It commands meditation and introspection and cannot be dispensed with in a weekend. It commands rereading at every stage of your life and I'm convinced if it was mandatory reading for every human being the world would be a much better place. There are not enough superlatives or Best Book lists to describe this book. It's a crowning achievement of the entire human race and Marcus Zusak deserves to be recognized with the best of the world's classic authors. Forever.