Friday, April 10, 2009

The Book Thief: Opening Questions

In teaching college, I've learned that sometimes the best way to begin a book discussion is simply by throwing out a few genuine questions and seeing what comes of them. So, to begin our discussion of The Book Thief, that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Here are a couple of questions that have been banging around in my head as I've been reading this book. If you have any answers, please feel free to share. Even better, I'd love to see what questions about this book you have roaming around in your heads, so feel free to drop those in the comments.
Here goes:

QUESTION 1: Why would Zusak choose to make Death the narrator of this story? The most interesting narrators are, I think, narrators that evolve and change simply through telling their tales (think Nick from The Great Gatsby or Ishmael from Moby Dick).

For these storytellers, the very act of storytelling transforms them in some important way. It gives them heightened morality or answers to their own personal problems, so is it possible that Death could evolve through his telling of Leisel's story? Death is supposed to be constant and unchanging, and yet in this book, Death seems terribly sad (and bored). He longs for something. Perhaps this is coldhearted of me, but so far, I'm more interested in what's going to happen to Death and how he's going to change than I am interested in Leisel. Why make Death a storyteller? What is that achieving?

QUESTION 2: What am I supposed to make of the strange interludes? You know, these things:

* * * A QUESTION * * *
What's up with these things
in the middle of the story?

I'm not sure I like these things. True, they make the book easy to read. ("Hey, I cruised through that page in no time!) But they're kind of getting in the way. Each time I encounter one, I'm reminded that I'm reading a book. For just a moment, I see the page instead of the story (that probably makes no sense), and when I'm into a story, I don't like to be distracted. I'm not sure what to make of them yet.

QUESTION 3: Why is Death so interested in colors? I've always figured Death to be a very black and white kind of thing. Again, I'm more interested in Death so far than Leisel, and his fascination with colors intrigues me. What should I do with that? Do specific colors mean specific things?

Well, there they are - a few of the questions I've been working through so far. No answers yet. Just questions, but I think that's a good place to start.

So, as you're reading The Book Thief, what questions are you thinking about?


Anonymous said...

Specific colors definitely mean specific things. For one thing, there are the colors that represent personality, and each of those colors also represent another two or three things. Blue often represents loyalty, trust, etc. White is correlated with purity and also victory. Red is aggression - but not necessary in a negative way - being passionate about good things can be great!

Patty said...

Why Death as a narrator? Who better to tell the story of the Holocaust? While we can consider him more of an impartial observer who hates his job, I like to think that Death does evolve through the story. He admits he doesn't like humans much, and yet he tells us the story of Liesel...obviously someone who was able to break through his walls and make him feel something.

As for the breaks in the middle of the story, I actually liked the breaks because, in addition to making the book a quicker read, they actually helped me to slow down and take a bit more time thinking about what was going on. I was able to remember that the narrator wasn't Liesel, as I sometimes thought, but Death.

Colors? I agree with the other comment. Colors represent an almost universal image and corresponding emotions. When we think yellow we feel happy, uplifted, blue=calm, etc. I don't think death has ever been a human, so he's not able to really relate to the living with experiences, but both Death and humans understand colors. That's a commonality between the narrator and the reader. The immediacy of the feeling by mentioning a color.

I have more questions toward the end of the book than the beginning, so I'll save those for later. I'm more interested to see how everyone else feels about the book.

Anonymous said...

I've only just begun the book, but I agree, who better to narrate the holocaust than death. He stalked the streets and time where Liesel lived, they were bound to run into each other from time to time. And of course he will change and evolve! I know this because I've watched him do it--when he took over Brad Pitt's body in the movie "Meeting Joe Black", I think it was called. At least that's the face and voice that enters my mind whenever death speaks in this book. It's a little distracting actually.

Hey! I liked those stange little interludes, I thought they were cute, now they're "just getting in the way" and "remind me I'm reading a book". Thanks.

I really like the color motif--is that the right word? Yes, death seems a bit bored and has taken to noticing the details that elude us as he hovers over us waiting...I agree that different colors can represent or specific emotions. They help me key into the moment. Like white snow: stark, absent of other colors or emotions, cold, how one would feel at the moment of losing a son or brother to death (no matter how good-looking his face or calming his voice may appear).

The Grave Digger's Handbook seems to be Liesel's segway from illiteracy to literacy,from one family unit to another,rom one life experience to the next. I am interested to see how Zusak uses future stolen books.

Professor Josh said...

Man - you people are crazy-smart (which, as I understand it, means that you're really smart and not at all crazy - what's up with kids and their slang?).

The Brad Pitt idea is both funny and insightful. Anonymous is right. This isn't the first time we've seen death evolve in a story. I'm excited to look for that evolution as we keep reading. I'm also pleased that Anonymous has given death a face. To this point, I hadn't really been able to "see" death. His features have never been clearly described. Now I know what he looks like.

Whoa. Hey. Here's an idea. Maybe this is one point of the book -- to show us what death looks like, to help us see death? Could his physical features slowly be revealed as we read?

Anonymous said...

Who better than death, who cannot really critisize what he does not know, but i do find his take on life quite amusing. I think he has the right to be perplexed, how can humans differ so much.

The middle of the book lets ou have time to think and draw some of our own conclusions because there can be many points considered about one subject.

I agree though the colors represent the emotions of man.

but what should i kno im a stewpid 14 year old
who has to write a paer on this.
LOL....XD.... jus wanted to add some slang O.o

Anonymous said...

forgot to capitilze I sad

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