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New! Book to Movie: The Book Thief Review

Updated: Mar 23


Category: Camellias on Moss-a story you never forget

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

How do I even begin to tell you about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak? Do I start by gushing about the title? If you were perusing the aisles of your favorite book store, don’t tell me this one wouldn’t catch your eye, make you pause, have you drag your fingertips down the spine, whisper the name on your lips. Do I tell you the flash synopsis, that the story is about a little German girl caught in the middle of WWII who steals books like her life depends on it? But that tells you nothing. Do I give away the juiciest part of the novel? That the reason to read this book is owed all to the voice of the narrator, Death. Yes, the Death. But not the one in the hooded robe who carries a scythe. The one who sees the colors, then the humans. Not the one who is the harbinger of death, we humans do that well enough on our own. The one who is the result. The one who carries souls like little birds in his palm. The one who is haunted by humans.


What am I saying? Of course, I start with the narrator, Death. He’s the reason I’m a writer. I was completely entranced by him. I had never read a story quite like this one. Death was the first character who made me stunned by his turn of phrase. He was the first narrator that showed me how much work the author could do outside “the story” while telling you everything you needed to know. As a being outside time, Death taught me that writing in chronological order isn’t required to tell a good story. As a being that doesn’t exist, at least to humans, Death taught me that as a writer I could break all the rules. Death showed me the beauty in a simple phrase. How to capture the essence of a relationship in something as simple as a laugh. How to bring the world alive to the reader in one child's description of the sun.


So you can imagine my doubt when I learned that they were producing The Book Thief movie. For me, the story only exists because of the narrator. How could they possibly translate that for the viewers? Zusak tells a story that is full of gorgeous, heart-wrenching imagery that would no doubt make beautiful cinematography. But would it make me feel the same way I did at the end of reading the novel? And the answer is no, but it came a lot closer than I would have thought. Most of this comes from the fact that Markus Zusak wrote the screenplay, but I have to hand it to Director Brian Percival for respecting the story. While there were a number of small things the movie changed from the book that a fan like me found unnecessary, I enjoyed the retelling of the story overall. My only major complaint was that this movie did not ground us in the reality of what it meant for Jewish people and all other persons persecuted under Hitler’s reign. We get an inside look to what German citizens were going through, but the screenplay didn’t give us that punch to the gut about what was happening to everyone else. In the book, we get the levity with the gravity. In the movie, we get brief moments of gravity that are always pulled to a happier moment. But to give a happy ending to the Holocaust is to take away the pain and history of its people. I’d be interested to know what Zusak thought of the ways the movie changed his story, and if he shares my views about what got lost in translation. To purchase this book, support your local, independent bookstore and check out Crawford's Books! To watch a review of the movie, check out A-Town Reviews this Friday.

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