Notes on "The Book Thief"

published on 2014 Jun 02
containing 281 words

I had seen this on quite a few recent best book lists but somehow completely missed its YA billing (probably because of how I try to limit my curiosity when scouting for the next book so I can dive into it with as open a mind as possible at this age). Considering how I lap up holocaust stories, I was confident enough it wouldn’t disappoint.

The prose seemed unusual and at first blush, even interesting. But within first few pages, I was so stuck with its infelicity, I had to flip back and check if it was a half-hearted translation. Every couple of pages, there was another misused idiom or an erratic adjective or an unfathomable metaphor or even outright spurious words to break the flow of reading *. Disconcertingly, this jagged style seemed intentional (perhaps a misplaced, even patronizing, attempt; a dumbing down of language?). There’s an overall impression of words and ideas thrown together haphazardly making it a chore to plow through the artificial denseness. The sketches add absolutely nothing. The 3-page or so handwritten booklet is the height of pretentiousness beside being PITA to read in an ereader.

Looking past the style, story itself doesn’t have much to commend. Each story element seems to have been mawkishly chosen and overwrought to wring as much mushiness as possible. There are touching moments given it’s holocaust background but by the first half, the feeling of commercial sentimentality pervades every scene.

* Some examples - “my saving grace was distraction”, “dripped glass”, “reverse back”, “high on the scent of Hitler’s gaze”, “frustration of that appearance … was its complete misleadance”. Goodreads page has a fuller list.