In the span of two weeks, I've read two novels set during WWII despite hating war books. I enjoyed both of them (Code Name Verity and The Book Thief) for their unique take on the genre. The Book Thief takes place in Germany as the war effort is revving up and spinning out of control. I appreciated Zusak's originality. Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is full of his quips and asides, which refreshes this oft recounted tale. Characters are also multi-faceted; there is no heroic German who takes in a pitiable but hopeful Jew. I'd argue that even Hitler, a man who history has rightfully represented as 100% pure evil, manages to demonstrate complexity. In The Book Thief, actions have consequences and choices are painted with ambiguity. Zusak does not sugarcoat the truths of wartime but he does not oversell them to the point of pity porn either. Triumph and loss are intertwined because humans can never, especially in times of war, separate the good from the bad. I appreciated Zusak's narrative choices as well. By choosing to narrate with Death, who benefits from near omnipresence and omniscience about the past, Zusak foreshadowed or in some cases outright exposed what was going to happen to characters. In normal circumstances, I'd expect the plot spoilers to mar my enjoyment of the novel, but in The Book Thief, it works extraordinarily well. We know the whats but not the whys, and discovering how things unfold leading up to Death's announcements is the whole fun of it. There is so much to analyze in this novel--the significance of colors, the facts of childhood in wartime, the writing choices themselves--but what I'll remember best are two themes: the power of language and the ambiguity of humankind. Liesel, our eponymous "book thief", uses language to construct her world. Words can heal (they can make friendships; they can apologize) but they also can damage (they can start wars; they can denigrate an entire social identity). By finding the power of language throughout the novel, Liesel becomes a moral individual. But not all of her choices, nor the choices of the many other characters, are unequivocally good. In Death's own words, he is "haunted by humans" because of their complexity of behavior, thought, and feeling. How can we be so capable of evil yet so capable of good? Countless authors have posed this question, but Zusak threads the answers (or non-answers) to this question into a broader historical and temporal fabric in a masterful way.