There’s a reason All the Light We Cannot See won a Pulitzer Prize. It took me a few weeks to work my way through this one. In early January, one afternoon it was a surprise waiting for me in the mailbox from one of my favorite teachers. Over the weekend I was bound and determined to find out how this story wrapped up. Sometimes while reading, I had to take breaks because my stomach was in knots and my thoughts would wander (not out of boredom, quite the opposite – this book gave me so much to think about.) The story alternates view points, and points in time throughout the novel, later adding on to the character’s perspectives you’re seeing through, and eventually (as may have been expected), intertwining these character’s lives. There is so much to digest here, so much to take away. We have Marie-Laure a young blind girl living in occupied France during WWII. Marie-Laure’s father Daniel LeBlanc is a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. You have orphan Werner Pfennig living in a children’s home in Germany with his sister Jutta, with their kind care taker Frau Elena. As you can imagine in war-time, all of these character’s locations change and their stories expand and they encounter more people who become essential to their stories. I’m intentionally being vague because I would hate to ruin the beautiful way this story unravels. I think some of the key points I was reminded of is the way art, music, books, and imagination can be threads of hope in the darkest of times. I was reminded that although we know what’s right and wrong, people who do bad things, are still capable of doing good things. Recently, I saw a tweet that said “Historically, ‘I was only following orders’ has not been a solid defense.” How true this is, and some people only come to the realization after so much damage is done. Friendship can sprout from curious places. Fear makes people do evil things. It’s never wrong to do the right thing, even if it means you’re going against the current. Doing the right thing takes a tremendous amount of courage sometimes. People can be very impressionable, it’s important to remember to think for yourself and not be a follower. We have a responsibility to maintain a knowledge of the past, so we don’t repeat history’s mistakes. This story tugged on my heart strings, and these characters will stay with me for years to come. If you haven’t read this novel yet, I highly recommend you do so immediately.
I’m big on reading books before seeing a film version, (if I plan on seeing the movie.) When I found The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was being made into a film, I knew it was time to give it another try. You see, I’ve had a paperback copy of the book on my shelves for years. Senior year of college, I tried to read and I was so confused by the narration in the beginning (I couldn’t figure out who was narrating, and I was fifty pages in and I just felt like the story was being lost on me.) So instead, when my housemates asked me for book suggestions and they’d borrowed a few others, eventually I passed on The Book Thief. I didn’t preface it with my difficulty (pretty sure this was/is a “me” thing.) I’d read so many great reviews online that I figured they’d probably love it, and what do you know? Of course, they did. This was 2010, and now here we are a few years later and stills from the movie pop up on Tumblr, and then came the trailer (which I tried to avoid as not to give away crucial plot points,) and I knew it was time.
A few weeks ago, I had my first consecutive days off that weren’t part of a busy schedule in quite awhile (it was Thanksgiving, my parents live at the beach and it’s pretty low key and chill – we ate, drank, watched football, and I read.) So it opened the perfect amount of time to finally return to The Book Thief. Even though I slightly recalled where I’d left off because my brain is weird like that I, started from the beginning. I hadn’t remembered it being 550 pages, though- I had my work cut out for me!
This is one of those beautiful, heart-wrenching stories, that just digs out a spot in your soul and then settles down to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. The characters feel like a part of you. At least for me. It’s one of those stories that I’d hate to let my rambling self go into detail and ruin any small piece of it because it’s…such a delicate story. It deserves for the pages to surprise you. But I’ll tell you this – I was all “oh! I haven’t cried yet” telling my friend about it last Sunday afternoon in a relay of text messages, but then about twenty minutes later I found myself sobbing silently. Kind of like the time I read Jo Knowles See You at Harry’s but kind of worse. I had to lay in my bed and wait for the haze to clear from my eyes so I could keep reading.
So, there’s that -at least you’re warned of the possibility it might shatter your heart a bit.
This story is more than a German girl, Liesel, learning to read during World War II. It’s more than what the crimes of hate that were committed looked like through a child’s eyes. It’s more than childhood crushes. The Book Thief is a story that so preciously intertwines love and loss, friendship, death, life and and all of the things that make it magical and painful. The many, many facets that make up a personality, and each person’s unique story. The way we can form bonds with people that we never see coming. The power of language and words, and how we can build people up and make things better, or we can just as easily violently destroy.
I can’t recommend this beautiful novel enough. I can promise you it’s worth the read. I even saw it categorized in a book store the other day under, “Books that Will Change Your Life.” I have to say, they’re probably right. If you’re looking for a new read this year, and you haven’t checked this one out yet – give it a try!