The Book Thief


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It’s hard to believe there can be anything more to say about Nazi Germany. There are very few time periods that have been written about as much as World War II. Every genre has swathes of books devoted to it. The “definitive” WWII novel has probably been written a dozen times. Every Western country has its own WWII genre.

And yet, the books keep coming. But nothing quite like “The Book Thief” has ever come along.

A young adult novel, narrated by Death, chronicling his exhaustion as the Holocaust and the War rage around him, is not a very likely novel. A young girl who learns to read among this madness, who falls in love with words–that isn’t something one would expect to find. But of course, it’s a big old world. Anything that can happen, will happen.

The question of why we keep being drawn to this period is pretty easily answered: authors are constantly trying to answer the question of what it means to be human, after the human race committed sins so unspeakable? We read to find each author’s answer to that terrible question. Hope and dread suffuse the genre.


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In the end, this book is about one young woman’s love affair with words–which are, after all, just another expression of life. And in WWII, life became a thing which gave birth to terrors, just as words became the weapons of that terror.

Maybe it’s a good thing that we keep being drawn back to this period. There’s always been something else to be said, some new story that can be told. Writers find them because they just can’t stop digging. They can’t stop looking for the answers to the questions of that now generations-old war. And as that impossible answer is sought, we get works like The Book Thief. So let the writers keep writing, as long as we can keep reading.


The Coal Black Pool at the End of All Things: “Ragnarok”


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AS Byatt’s retelling of the Norse myths could have been a capitalistic send-up, designed only to make money. Instead, Byatt wrote about the myths that touched her the most as a child, about the end of the world in Norse myth.

Byatt mulls over the meaning of myths, and the purpose of myths. How can something so far from “true” matter so much? How do we come to terms with the inevitability of death? How do stories help us live?

Finally, Byatt’s setting, a child in WWII era Britain, is a stroke of genius. The world was such a mad place that the “truth” seemed more abstract to this child than myths.