A gentle and original story for children set during Nazi Germany at the start of the Second World War. A little girl steals a handbook at the funeral of her brother. Later, her parents are taken away to a concentration camp and she is fostered by a poor family, where she develops her relationship with books. She acquires the book collection by stealing them during a time when other books were being burned.
With the exception of the Jew in the basement, there is little to suggest that there is a significant war going on; there are challenges with poverty but perhaps that is what it is like for children. They adapt and have different priorities to adults. This is reminiscent of other stories I have read from children's perspective during the war.
It took me a while to work out where this story was going and I found it quite tedious in places. There really ought to have been tighter editing. 'Close proximity' appeared a couple of times. However, the most cringeworthy term is 'she ejaculated' instead of 'she said'. The last ten per cent of the book is the best as only here does the narrator, Death, play a part. I do like the way this section is written. It is fast paced, dramatic and moving if a little sentimental.
Overall, this book had a original idea and Death as a narrator, with his colour references, was quite unique. I did expect more from Death than a retelling of a child's life. The format is unusual, too, even though it is often distracting. Some of the similes jump out as well, as if the author is trying too hard. The sketches and handwritten parts are a nice touch for a book aimed at young people, but they did not reproduce well on my Kindle so I couldn't make out the words.
Not a book I rushed to every day but like the originality. Perfect for children to understand some aspects of war-torn Germany.
Published by Picador in 2005; Transworld Digital; 10th Anniversary edition 8 March 2016.
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