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Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity



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The Book Thief

by

The Book Thief Cover

 

 

Excerpt

DEATH AND CHOCOLATE

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.

***A SMALL THEORY  ***

People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment.

A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors.

Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses.

In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.

As I've been alluding to, my one saving grace is distraction. It keeps me sane. It helps me cope, considering the length of time I've been performing this job. The trouble is, who could ever replace me? Who could step in while I take a break in your stock-standard resort-style vacation destination, whether it be tropical or of the ski trip variety? The answer, of course, is nobody, which has prompted me to make a conscious, deliberate decision--to make distraction my vacation. Needless to say, I vacation in increments. In colors.

Still, it's possible that you might be asking, why does he even need a vacation? What does he need distraction from?

Which brings me to my next point.

It's the leftover humans.

The survivors.

They're the ones I can't stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail. I deliberately seek out the colors to keep my mind off them, but now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs.

Which in turn brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. It's the story of one of those perpetual survivors--an expert at being left behind.

It's just a small story really, about, among other things:

* A girl

* Some words

* An accordionist

* Some fanatical Germans

* A Jewish fist fighter

* And quite a lot of thievery

I saw the book thief three times.

BESIDE THE RAILWAY LINE

First up is something white. Of the blinding kind.

Some of you are most likely thinking that white is not really a color and all of that tired sort of nonsense. Well, I'm here to tell you that it is. White is without question a color, and personally, I don't think you want to argue with me.

***A REASSURING ANNOUNCEMENT  ***

Please, be calm, despite that previous threat.

I am all bluster--

I am not violent.

I am not malicious.

I am a result.

Yes, it was white.

It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow. Like it had pulled it on, the way you pull on a sweater. Next to the train line, footprints were sunken to their shins. Trees wore blankets of ice.

As you might expect, someone had died.

They couldn't just leave him on the ground. For now, it wasn't such a problem, but very soon, the track ahead would be cleared and the train would need to move on.

There were two guards.

There was one mother and her daughter.

One corpse.

The mother, the girl, and the corpse remained stubborn and silent.

"Well, what else do you want me to do?"

The guards were tall and short. The tall one always spoke first, though he was not in charge. He looked at the smaller, rounder one. The one with the juicy red face.

"Well," was the response, "we can't just leave them like this, can we?"

The tall one was losing patience. "Why not?"

And the smaller one damn near exploded. He looked up at the tall one's chin and cried, "Spinnst du! Are you stupid?!" The abhorrence on his cheeks was growing thicker by the moment. His skin widened. "Come on," he said, traipsing over the snow. "We'll carry all three of them back on if we have to. We'll notify the next stop."

As for me, I had already made the most elementary of mistakes. I can't explain to you the severity of my self-disappointment. Originally, I'd done everything right:

I studied the blinding, white-snow sky who stood at the window of the moving train. I practically inhaled it, but still, I wavered. I buckled--I became interested. In the girl. Curiosity got the better of me, and I resigned myself to stay as long as my schedule allowed, and I watched.

Twenty-three minutes later, when the train was stopped, I climbed out with them.

A small soul was in my arms.

I stood a little to the right.

The dynamic train guard duo made their way back to the mother, the girl, and the small male corpse. I clearly remember that my breath was loud that day. I'm surprised the guards didn't notice me as they walked by. The world was sagging now, under the weight of all that snow.

Perhaps ten meters to my left, the pale, empty-stomached girl was standing, frost-stricken.

Her mouth jittered.

Her cold arms were folded.

Tears were frozen to the book thief's face.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 33 comments:

Lindsay Waite, August 18, 2013 (view all comments by Lindsay Waite)
I finished this book too quickly. I couldn't put it down. While yes, I read a lot of historical fiction as well as nonfiction about WW II, "The Book Thief" is a unique look at the horror of that war from the perspective of a young German girl, her foster family, Max, whom they sheltered as long as they could, and others in a small German town near Munich. And, of course, from the view of the narrator, Death. Uniquely told, this story draws the reader into the life of a clever frightened girl and her gradual awakening to the reality surrounding her that eventually intrudes directly in her life. Don't miss the chance to delve into Liesel's world, her love of language, and her attempts to make sense of the terrible times even as she finds moments of joy.
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Millicent, January 31, 2013 (view all comments by Millicent)
Loved this book <3
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Kathryn Simmons, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Kathryn Simmons)
I loved this book so much I bought it for my granddaughter. It is incredibly moving, funny, serious and real.
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View all 33 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780375831003
Author:
Zusak, Markus
Publisher:
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Author:
Marcus Zusak
Author:
Karp, Jesse
Subject:
Jews
Subject:
Historical - Military & Wars
Subject:
Children's 12-Up - Fiction - History
Subject:
Historical - Holocaust
Subject:
Death
Subject:
Storytelling
Subject:
Children s-Historical Fiction-Military and War
Subject:
Children s-Historical Fiction-Holocaust
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
March 14, 2006
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
from 7
Language:
English
Pages:
560
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in 0.98 lb
Age Level:
12-17

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Young Adult » General

The Book Thief New Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$19.99 In Stock
Product details 560 pages Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers - English 9780375831003 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

"It's just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery..." Take your time reading this beautifully written book with an innovative approach to storytelling. Narrated by Death and set in World War II Germany, the story revolves around young Liesel Meminger and her foster family as the war creeps up around them. Simply put, this is a masterpiece.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "This hefty volume is an achievement — a challenging book in both length and subject, and best suited to sophisticated older readers. The narrator is Death himself, a companionable if sarcastic fellow, who travels the globe 'handing souls to the conveyor belt of eternity.' Death keeps plenty busy during the course of this WWII tale, even though Zusak (I Am the Messenger) works in miniature, focusing on the lives of ordinary Germans in a small town outside Munich. Liesel Meminger, the book thief, is nine when she pockets The Gravedigger's Handbook, found in a snowy cemetery after her little brother's funeral. Liesel's father — a 'Kommunist' — is already missing when her mother hands her into the care of the Hubermanns. Rosa Hubermann has a sharp tongue, but Hans has eyes 'made of kindness.' He helps Liesel overcome her nightmares by teaching her to read late at night. Hans is haunted himself, by the Jewish soldier who saved his life during WWI. His promise to repay that debt comes due when the man's son, Max, shows up on his doorstep. This 'small story,' as Death calls it, threads together gem-like scenes of the fates of families in this tight community, and is punctuated by Max's affecting, primitive artwork rendered on painted-over pages from Mein Kampf. Death also directly addresses readers in frequent asides; Zusak's playfulness with language leavens the horror and makes the theme even more resonant — words can save your life. As a storyteller, Death has a bad habit of forecasting ('I'm spoiling the ending,' he admits halfway through his tale). It's a measure of how successfully Zusak has humanized these characters that even though we know they are doomed, it's no less devastating when Death finally reaches them. Ages 12-up." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "The writing is elegant, philosophical and moving. Even at its length, it's a work to read slowly and savor. Beautiful and important."
"Review" by , "Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward....An extraordinary narrative."
"Review" by , "The Book Thief will be appreciated for Mr. Zusak's audacity....It will be widely read and admired because it tells a story in which books become treasures. And because there's no arguing with a sentiment like that."
"Review" by , "[A] lengthy, powerful story....There's too much commentary at the outset, and too much switching from past to present time, but...the astonishing characters, drawn without sentimentality, will grab readers."
"Review" by , "Exquisitely written and memorably populated....A tour de force to be not just read but inhabited."
"Review" by , "Zusak's writing is at times marred by some postmodern tricks...but, overall, his style is lyrical and moving....It's unlikely young readers will forget what this atrocity looked like through the eyes of Death."
"Review" by , "[S]trange, poetically descriptive, and, at times, ruthlessly bleak....[Liesel's] story is remarkable in that it's one of many equally tragic ones — and because it takes a special talent to find its moments of beauty among the rubble."
"Review" by , "Zusak may not have lived under Nazi domination, but The Book Thief deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel's Night. It seems poised to become a classic."
"Review" by , "Zusak doesn't sugarcoat anything, but he makes his ostensibly gloomy subject bearable the same way Kurt Vonnegut did in Slaughterhouse-Five: with grim, darkly consoling humor."
"Review" by , "One of the most highly anticipated young-adult books in years."
"Synopsis" by , US
"Synopsis" by , The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that is now a major motion picture, Markus Zusak's unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

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