Paperback: The Book Thief, By Markus Zusak

Black Swan £7.99
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The Independent Culture

The Book Thief is that thing which publishers most love: like its Australian author's previous books, it can be marketed towards "young adults", but is rich, subtle and original enough also to appeal to discerning, fully grown adults.

It is the story of Liesel, a spirited nine-year-old girl in Nazi Germany whose parents have been taken to a concentration camp; it is the story of her relationships with the other children on her street, her adoptive parents and the Jewish refugee who shelters in their basement; it is about the apolitical defiance of youth, and about the power of language. It is an expansive novel, exuberant and on occasion heartbreaking, peopled with vivid characters and rich in incident and detail. But its unique selling point is that it is narrated by Death.

Death has a sardonic, not unpoetic voice, and makes mordant interjections into the story. He is detached from human affairs and yet he can't help but be fascinated, and moved, by the plight of individual people. He is an audacious device which Zusak uses well, in order to view the Holocaust and the varying degrees of German citizens' culpability and resistance, afresh.