Monday, March 7, 2011

Because I Could Not Stop for Death

Honestly, I'm not a big poetry fan, but The Book Thief kept bringing "Because I could not stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson to mind. In it, the narrator, Death, tells a story which he picked up while gathering souls. It's the story of a young girl, who steals books in Nazi Germany. At first it's something to connect her with her brother whose death first brought the book thief to Death's attention. Then as her foster father teaches her to read, it becomes life, an escape, a statement. Liesel, the book thief, lives through the horrors of World War II and survives literally because of her books. It's a powerful, complicated story about the good and evil present in the daily lives of Germans. So

1) Read it for the interesting perspective of German life. While there's a Jewish persecution subplot (and the book is honored for its portrayal), more poignant are Liesel and Rudy's views on Hitler's Youth, Hans's stand against joining the Nazi party, the rationing and bomb sirens as the war escalates. Rarely do we hear of this side of the war, that there were innocents who died in Germany too.

2) Read it for the characterization of Death. Death is a great narrator. Alternately sympathetic and gruesome, we get glimpses of Death's life(?) as he ferries souls to eternity. He remembers the separate times he encounters the book thief outside of the story she wrote. He remembers when he has encountered the ones she loved. He adds his own color--oh the color--to Liesel's story until it becomes so much more than a diary of a little book stealer.

3) Read it for the words. Zusak personifies words in such a fabulous way. They tumble out of Liesel's mouth and roll to a stop at Rosa's feet. They fly, they sneak, they grow larger and looming. As words take on a stronger meaning in Liesel's life they do so much more in the story. Indeed, Hitler's use of words swayed a country. (I got that from the King's Speech.) So too Liesel discovers that she can harness the power of words. I totally want to go back and write a college paper on this book.

Anyway read it. It will probably make you cry, but in a good way.

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