Saturday, 19 April 2014

I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right

Unfinished book #3.



Today I finished The Book Thief. And right now, I am holding the most beautiful words in my heart and I think it will be a while before I let them go.

“She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Liesel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist's suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers...She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on...”

And so, with a certain degree of empathy, Death observes Liesel, the book thief, and her best friend, Rudy.

There is so much that has already been said about The Book Thief. I am only one of 8 million who have read it. And there is a film that I won't see. The book was so cinematic and evocative that I fear the film won't match the tightness of my heart. 

I heard an interview with Markus Zusak on Summer Breakfasters on Triple rrr. And, while he said he made the book he wanted to write, Zusak also said that writing the book killed him. For him, it was three years of constant everyday work and at the end he was a mess and also happy. He went on to say that that is how authors should be, wrung dry by the final copy.

The book was the result of a writing workshop in a school. They were all writing about colour. Alongside the students, he wrote about colour and three deaths. Death was the narrator in this short piece and he decided he would include that in the book he wanted to write about Nazi Germany. He said it made sense to him because people always say that war and death are best friends. But, as he thought about this idea, he wondered, what if death was haunted by humans. Death doesn't see us at our best, so what if there was an empathetic aspect to 'him'?

Zusak had a veritable magic pile of ideas to work with in weaving this story. One of the other threads came from the stories his parents told of growing up in Germany during the war. When they told these stories in an Australian context, it was like a piece of Europe came into their kitchen. Zusak remembers his parents often describing things in opposites, for example: the ground was covered in ice but the sky was on fire.

For me, the most compelling threads in the story were Liesel's discovery of her own voice: her ability to read stories and then to write her own, to be a word-shaker and a calming presence, as well as her growing love for Rudy which she discovered too late.

I finished The Book Thief in the Gertrude Street Enoteca as the sun slipped down past the buildings and the chill of a late autumn afternoon took hold. 

And it was a quiet and thoughtful walk home from Fitzroy, through Collingwood to an Easter Saturday Abbotsford.



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