In the prologue (and first two chapters) of The Book Thief, THIS IS GOING TO BE SO AWESOME. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start reading The Book Thief.
So, before I jump right into this, I’d like to discuss how this is going down. Quite a few of you let me know, via Twitter and Tumblr, that The Book Thief is not exactly split up like things I’ve done before. There are no numbered chapters, though chapters exist. And they are short. REALLY SHORT.
I’ll be copying the general format that I use for Infinite Jest, in a way. I’ll number the chapters myself, but I will break up the review with the names of those chapters so you know which ones will be in each post. I’m actually excited about this book for a number of reasons, but it’s also nice to force myself to use some altered formatting as well. This is a PLEASANT CHANGE.
Anyway, this should make sense after this first review. Shall we?
PROLOGUE / CH. 1: DEATH AND CHOCOLATE
It’s absolutely impossible to ignore the fact that the sheer formatting of this book is unlike anything I’ve seen in a good while. It’s not House of Leaves strange, but it’s not at all like Harry Potter. Or Twilight. Well, nothing is like Twilight. I APOLOGIZE FOR SAYING THAT.
First the colors.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.
Ok, what? Who? What???
And I suppose I’ll have to get used to it, but these very short, prose-like passages have these bolded…interjections? I don’t know what to call them. The first one looks like this:
* * * HERE IS A SMALL FACT * * *
You are going to die.
There are four of them in this first chapter. They seem to be signs of narrative shifts, subtle ones at times, or as an aside by the narrator.
Oh. Right. The narrator is Death. DEATH. What the holy fuck? Ok…ok, I have an open mind. It’s…different? It’s a total change from what I’ve read before. AND I REALLY LIKE THINGS THAT ARE BLEAK, AMIRITE?
I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your shoulder will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.
This is where we’re first introduced to the concept of colors and how that relates to death. Apparently we all have a “color” when we die. I don’t know what that means quite yet, but only death can see it when we die.
Personally, I like a chocolate-covered sky. Dark, dark chocolate. People say it suits me. I do, however, try to enjoy every color I see—the whole spectrum. A billion or so flavors, none of them quite the same, and a sky to slowly suck on. It takes the edge off the stress. It helps me relax.
Ok, this is interesting. Death is the narrator and it has personal conflicts. Death. I’m intrigued already. What on earth could stress out DEATH?
It’s the leftover humans.
They’re the ones I can’t stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail. I deliberately seek out the colors to keep my mind off them, but now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs.
So…people who cheated Death? LOOK I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING AT THIS POINT!
It’s just a small story really, about, among other things:
- A girl
- Some words
- An accordianist
- Some fanatical Germans
- A Jewish fish fighter
- And quite a lot of thievery.
I saw the book thief three times.
Well, shit. Death? Nazis? A book thief? COLOR ME INTERESTED.
CH. 2: BESIDE THE RAILWAY LINE
I’ll have to get used to such brief chapters. I like the flow of this so far. It feels like someone is actually telling me a story in person. It’s different. I like different. Death seems very willing to interrupt itself to correct something it has said, or to provide further context, such as when it brings up the color white:
White is without question a color, and personally, I don’t think you want to argue with me.
* * * A REASSURING ANNOUNCEMENT * * *
Please, be calm, despite that previous threat.
I am all bluster—
I am not violent.
I am not malicious.
I am a result.
Death is sure anxious to make sure it doesn’t offend us. Also…I’m unsure what pronouns to use. Death isn’t a human, so he/she doesn’t work, right? They? It? Hir? Ze? I DON’T KNOW. (Don’t spoil that if it later becomes apparent, please.
This particular chapter introduces us to a lot of nameless people. It’s the railway line. Two guards. A mother. A daughter. And a dead boy. I can guess pretty certainly that we are in Germany. There’s no explanation for why the boy is dead or if he is related to the other two, but it’s our first introduction to the book thief. She is the young girl in this story, surrounded in white, and something about her intrigues Death.
I studied the building, white-snow sky who stood at the window of the moving train. I practically inhaled it, but still, I wavered. I buckled—I became interested. In the girl. Curiosity got the better of me, and I resigned myself to stay as long as my schedule allowed, and I watched.
Twenty-three minutes later, when the train was stopped, I climbed out with them.
A small soul was in my arms.
I stood a little to the right.
There’s a weird sense of poetic symmetry to the way this is written. Very matter-of-fact in a way, but the sentences flow from one to the other. Why is Death so interested in this girl?
Perhaps ten meters to my left, the pale, empty-stomached girl was standing, frost-stricken.
Her mouth jittered.
Her cold arms were folded.
Tears were frozen to the book thief’s face.
Well, this is a great, joyous start, right? Seriously, I had to go and pick a book that starts off with Death taking a boy away from a young girl. What is wrong with me.
(Monday’s review will be much longer; I didn’t realize that these chapters where so short.)