First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. HERE IS A SMALL FACT You are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me. REACTION TO THE AFOREMENTIONED FACT Does this worry you? I urge you—don’t be afraid. I’m nothing if not fair. —Of course, an introduction. A beginning. Where are my manners? I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away. At that moment, you will be lying there (I rarely find people standing up). You will be caked in your own body. There might be a discovery; a scream will dribble down the air. The only sound I’ll hear after that will be my own breathing, and the sound of the smell, of my footsteps. The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying? Personally, I like a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate. People say it suits me. I do, however, try to enjoy every color I see—the whole spectrum. A billion or so flavors, none of them quite the same, and a sky to slowly suck on. It takes the edge off the stress. It helps me relax.
The Book Thief is one of those books that I've read again and again and again. I reviewed it in 2007, 2008, and 2012. I started the year knowing that I would have to include it among my rereads. It's just a great book, a great book that is not diminished by rereading. It stays compelling and beautiful. It was also recently filmed. I wanted to read the book around the same time I watched the movie.
I watched the movie before rereading The Book Thief. If I'd never read the Book Thief, I would not have felt right seeing the movie first. This worked well for me. I think it worked to the movie's benefit in fact. I was able to become absorbed in the story and the characters. I wasn't comparing every second of the movie to every word in the book. I wasn't seeing the movie within the framework of what has been left out and what has been changed. Watching the movie, I was reminded of why I love the characters I love, reminded of why they are so memorable to me. They are just as memorable to me as say Anne, Marilla, Matthew, and Gilbert. The Book Thief was a book that deserved a film of equal quality to be made, and, I think it was done beautifully. That doesn't mean that everything in the movie was in the book or that everything in the book was in the movie. One thing I did notice after reading the book was the fact that Hans did not take the accordion with him into the shelter raids. (Though it did make a great movie moment.)
I loved rereading The Book Thief. It is always an experience. I don't think I can improve upon my last review:
The Book Thief leaves me speechless. If humans leave Death, the narrator, feeling haunted, I can say the same of the narrator. Could a book have a better narrator? I doubt it. There is something so perfectly-perfectly-perfect about The Book Thief. It is beautiful and brilliant; absorbing and compelling. It goes ugly places, to be sure, but the language, the style, just can't be beat. I mean this is a novel that wows and amazes. The characters are so real, so vivid. I mean these characters are very real, very human, very flawed, but the connection is so intense.
I don't love it because it's an easy read. I don't love it because it's a happy, happy novel. I love it because it is beautiful, haunting, ugly, yet hopeful.
Yes, often, I am reminded of her, and in one of my vast array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell. It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right. Each one an attempt—an immense leap of an attempt—to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it. Here it is. One of a handful. The Book Thief. If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story. I’ll show you something.
Yes, an illustrious career. I should hasten to admit, however, that there was a considerable hiatus between the first stolen book and the second. Another noteworthy point is that the first was stolen from snow and the second from fire. Not to omit that others were also given to her. All told, she owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon.
When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything. Was it when she first set eyes on the room with shelves and shelves of them? Or when Max Vandenburg arrived on Himmel Street carrying handfuls of suffering and Hitler’s Mein Kampf? Was it reading in the shelters? The last parade to Dachau? Was it The Word Shaker? Perhaps there would never be a precise answer as to when and where it occurred. In any case, that’s getting ahead of myself. Before we make it to any of that, we first need to tour Liesel Meminger’s beginnings on Himmel Street...
To most people, Hans Hubermann was barely visible. An un-special person. Certainly, his painting skills were excellent. His musical ability was better than average. Somehow, though, and I’m sure you’ve met people like this, he was able to appear as merely part of the background, even if he was standing at the front of a line. He was always just there. Not noticeable. Not important or particularly valuable. The frustration of that appearance, as you can imagine, was its complete misleadence, let’s say. There most definitely was value in him, and it did not go unnoticed by Liesel Meminger. (The human child—so much cannier at times than the stupefyingly ponderous adult.)
A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children
Insane or not, Rudy was always destined to be Liesel’s best friend. A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.
I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.
A SMALL BUT NOTE WORTHY NOTE I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They’re running at me.
On the ration cards of Nazi Germany, there was no listing for punishment, but everyone had to take their turn. For some it was death in a foreign country during the war. For others it was poverty and guilt when the war was over, when six million discoveries were made throughout Europe.
For some reason, dying men always ask questions they know the answer to. Perhaps it’s so they can die being right.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews