The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I seem to have a dissenting opinion on this one. I know a number of people who listed it as their best book of the year. I bought it for my 13-year-old granddaughter for Christmas but didn’t have time to read it myself first so I was grateful when a friend offered to send me a copy.
I thought it was definitely a book written for my granddaughter and her generation, for people who didn’t know much about the Holocaust and who would be able to see it as a tragedy that involved, on the inside, people who were good, were bad and most who had elements of both, not just the one-sided story it’s been for so long (i.e., all Germans bad).
I didn’t dislike it but I found it tedious. It bothered me a bit that the author felt the need to summarize the main points in bold print. It suggests to me that fiction, like nonfiction with its numerous headings and sidebars and other ways to graphically break up and summarize the text, has now found it necessary to predigest ideas for readers who either don’t get ideas from continuous text all that well or don’t want to take the time to do so. On the other hand, of course, there’s nothing wrong with experimentation and pitching one’s fiction at a particular audience. I’m just not that audience in this case.
I wasn’t all that keen on "death" being the narrator either. I didn’t dislike it particularly and I do see where it provided a personal narrative of sorts when the author obviously wanted a more overarching view than could be provided by any of the characters. I did rather appreciate the narrator’s tendency to preview the plot and thereby take suspense out of the equation. In a book that has more serious intentions than mystery I think that’s a good thing to do. But ultimately I found Death as narrator just a gimmick, with no particular consequence added to it, not even a moral point of view, or not much of one. I can see that the ubiquitous nature of Death was advantageous, but not sure it was "better" than the anonymous ubiquitous implied narrator of most fiction. One couldn't help but be distracted wondering about 'death" and his role.
That said I liked the story of Liesel who was brave and loyal and loving—and believable. I appreciated that Zusak didn’t get himself tied up in politics, but focused on people and their treatment of each other. I did expect to find out more about Liesel’s real mother, but I can’t say that was really a flaw. As readers we knew as much as she did. I suppose Death could have told us more had he felt so inclined.