Friday, October 27, 2006

A Good Book But...

Do you remember the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry has horrified his mother and other characters by making out with a date in a movie theater where Schindler's List is showing? I kept thinking of it while I was reading the first half of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

God help me, I found the first half of a Holocaust book slow. I thought it dragged.

It definitely picked up in the second half.

I like Markus Zusak's writing. I liked I Am The Messenger a lot, except, of course, for the really awful ending. And The Book Thief is a well-written book with lots of good characters. The main character is not your stereotypical bookish girl. She can't read at all at the beginning of the book, and she's taught to read by a man who only has a fourth grade education. She uses coarse language, she fights, and she steals. I like her. The narrator is fantastic. He's Death. A personification, I guess you'd call him. He's a sympathetic fellow who most readers wouldn't mind waiting for them at the end of their lives. He's not the most linear of narrators, though, liking to go back and forth a bit.

If I wanted to quibble, I would suggest that Zusak might get a little pretentiously arty in places. While many of his descriptions are marvelous, sometimes he goes a little over the top. But that's not a serious drawback.

I, personally, have a problem with Holocaust novels, though. It's a problem I've had since I was a teenager and foolishly read three in a row while trying to impress a good looking English teacher. Death, himself, mentions it around the halfway point in The Book Thief. My problem is that we know what's going to happen. We know what's going to happen, and we know it's going to be horrible. We know that though the book we're reading isn't real, that no real people experienced these particular atrocities, real people experienced things just as bad and worse.

I've never read a Holocaust novel that had any kind of explanation for how something this devastating could happen. For me, reading one is a masochistic act.

I was anxious before starting The Book Thief, but, really, I'd forgotten.

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