Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Book Thief -and globbed-together eyelashes

There are fewer novels than I can count on my one hand that have made me cry. Even in movies, the floodgates aren't let open easily. It's not that I'm cold hearted or emotionally detached -quite the opposite. It's just that I feel like few authors exist who write in a way that can really move readers, who can pull out their souls a little. 

I want to tell you a story. 

The day of my matric Greek Paper 2 exam I had a late writing slot, and so I found myself with too much time on my hands for the little revision I had set aside to do. I had been reading The Book Thief for the last two weeks as a reprieve from the monotony of studying, and that morning I had only about 40 pages left. I decided I was going to finish The Book Thief before my exam.

I must be honest with you all here, I had seen the movie before I began the book. 
I usually am quite stringent about reading the book of anything first. However, The Book Thief was out in cinemas and I knew the novel was too long to read before the movie left the big screen; So I went. I did cry. But, after I was game to read the novel still. When I started the book I realized just how wonderful the casting was for the movie. Were Hans, Rosa and Rudy not absolutely perfect? None in particular, but all?

Mark Zusak, oh you torturous, torturous bastard. Excuse me, but really. He let us know from the beginning and then continuously throughout the novel that Rudy (Oh Rudy...) and the Hubermanns were going to die. He also then squeezed lemon on our wounds by moulding together a story of such heart, such impact, that when he delivered the final blow, well, how could I not sob?

The love story between Rudy and Lizelle, I shiver to think about it. They were only children when they first met, but as they grew up into young teenagers through the novel, and the war, my poor heart could barely take it. Also, Mark Zusak peppered the novel with little lines and collections of lines that told you from the start. 

This story is going to break your heart.

Lines like this;

“How about a kiss, Saumensch?"

He stood waist-deep in the water for a few moments longer before climbing out and handing her the book. In truth, I think he was afraid. Rudy Steiner was scared of the book thief's kiss. He must have longed for it so much. He must have loved her so incredibly hard. So hard that he would never ask for her lips again and would go to his grave without them.” 


“The tears grappled with her face. 
Rudy, please, wake up, Goddamn it, wake up, I love you. Come on, Rudy, come on, Jesse Owens, don't you know I love you, wake up, wake up, wake up.."

There are few things I find more painful than authentic love never realized until it is too late. 

The death of Hans Hubermann, and even Rosa Hubermann, slung a hefty blow. Hans Hubermann, what a profound soul he was. What a character... The man with an accordion heart. 

The friendship between Max Vandenburg  and Lizelle was also something that clung to me like glue. Something that was left out of the movie which I so enjoyed in the novel was the painted book Max made for Lizelle over the pages of Mein Kampf, The Standover Man. His best standover man he'd ever known was not a man at all... Love that. Such kindness, such trust and small, but of-the-heart moments and gestures. I was glad to find one person at the end of the novel not dead. One less wound I had to hold.

But, it was the death of the boy with hair the colour of lemons that truly cracked my heart. Even now, I have a very hard time just thinking about Rudy, oh dear dear Rudy. Death called Rudy's passing a robbery. It was a slaughter of my heart, too. 

So, before my Greek exam I read the last pages of The Book Thief, and I cried and heaved and howled like I hadn't in a very long time. My whole chest hurt and my throat closed up. Was it possible for tears to forever to stain my cheeks like that of a cheetah's black marks?

I had about an hour to let all the redness and puffiness go down before I had to arrive at school. However, as I climbed into the car, walked up to the exam hall and put down my bag, The Book Thief still haunted me. One of my good friends -a girl who had the same attachment to Rudy- noticed my fragility and asked me what was wrong. I told her, and she answered, "Oh is that why your eyelashes are all stuck together! Oh Anth..." My tears had globbed together my eyelashes into a dark, star-like garnishing for my eyes. 

They were a reminder to me that day as I came home from the exam. Even though I felt afflicted by the tragedy within the novel, The Book Thief had given me a gift. It showed me just how beautiful human beings can be, how beautiful human beings are

So thank you Mark Zusak. And damn you.