We recently read The Book Thief, in my book club. And to put it mildly, I loved it. Technically it’s supposed to be “young adult fiction,” but I would like to propose that it isn’t. It’s heavy, it’s scary, it’s nuanced, it’s beautifully written. It’s brilliant – enough for any grown-up, and perhaps too much for
a “young adult”. Regardless, it has some of the most creative, disturbing and lovely descriptive language I’ve heard. Ever. Let me give you some examples.
In describing the sky…
The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places it
was burned. There were black
crumbs and pepper, streaked across the redness.
Oh how the clouds stumbled in and assembled stupidly in the sky.
Great obese clouds.
Dark and plump.
Bumping into each other. Apologizing. Moving on and finding room.
In describing grieving, and war…
Somewhere in all that snow, she could see her broken heart, in two pieces. Each half was
glowing and beating under all that white. She realized her mother had come back for her only
when she felt the boniness of a hand on her shoulder. She was being dragged away. A warm
scream filled her throat.
Within minutes, mounds of concrete and earth were stacked and piled. The streets were ruptured
veins. Blood streamed till it was dried on the road, and the bodies were stuck there, like driftwood
after the flood.
They were glued down, every last one of them. A packet of souls.
Was it fate?
Is that what glued them down like that?
Of course not.
Let’s not be stupid.
It probably had more to do with the hurled bombs, thrown down by
humans hiding in the clouds.
In describing humanity…
A DEFINITION NOT FOUND
IN THE DICTIONARY
Not leaving: an act of trust and love,
often deciphered by children
I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and
brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to
explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do
I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious,
and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.
I could go on and on. If I could, I would inject you with the knowledge of the whole book so you could experience all it’s descriptions, it’s insight, it’s beautiful sadness. Or you could just read it. I think you should.
By the way, I am not being paid or motivated to push this book for any other reason than pure adoration. Actually, I am experiencing writer envy, and perhaps by saying it – by pointing the world toward it – it’s like confessing my jealousy and getting it out of my system. Maybe not. Regardless, I feel it must be done. I wish I had written this book, or could. It makes me want to make a go at writing a novel. At letting loose and getting to describe things – the sky, a rainy day, people and their feelings – in full, poetic detail. At letting characters take me where they want to go, watching them develop and change and live their literary lives. Writing a personal essay is fun. One of my favorite things to do, actually. But I’m feeling the itch to break out of it’s parameters and do something different. To use the other side of my writing brain and enjoy the fact, as Mark Zusak (the author of The Book Thief) says, “that words can be used in a way that’s like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around.” I love that about writing. It’s work sometimes, but it is certainly also play.
Someday – maybe when my kids are all in school – I’ll get to try it out. Until then I’ll have to enjoy other people’s novels, and, as I’m sure will happen, read The Book Thief again. I’ll soak up the author’s juicy descriptions – both love and loathe them at the same time – and maybe get one step closer to writing some myself.