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The Book Thief and apprehensions of movie adaptations

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The Book Thief gets adapted under the supervision of director Brian Percival
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OKLAHOMA CITY - I try not to be, but I admit that when it comes to adapting books to movies, I am very critical.

I am a book lover first, movie fan second. Don’t get me wrong; I like movies. But being a visual medium, they are limited in how subtle and nuanced they can be when it comes to portraying the intangible qualities that make book lovers fiercely loyal to the books, characters and authors with whom they connect.

When I first saw the trailers for the film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, I was very interested. My first impression was that this was a movie about censorship and oppression in Nazi Germany. That in itself could be the basis for a great movie. Casting Geoffrey Rush is also a plus for any movie, in my humble opinion. So when we came across the audiobook as my family was choosing material for the long trek back to Canada for the holidays, we enthusiastically downloaded it.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Death is the omniscient narrator. I don’t recall the name of the narrator for the audiobook we listened to, but his work is wonderful. His voice is both textured and resonant; comforting or chilling, as dictated by the story. It may be ironic, but when considering this actor’s performance the word that keeps coming to mind is “intimate”. It felt as though a close friend was recounting the story. The author, on the other hand, provides imagery and vocabulary that draws the reader into the era, beautifully evoking the emotions, along with the political and social climate, not only from Leisel’s point of view, but the adults’ as well. Nobody is a stereotype or caricature; each character is has strengths and flaws, and no one is spared Death’s detached yet empathetic, critical yet perceptive observations.

I love books like these because they engage not just my emotions but also my imagination. My mind’s eye has very clear, detailed visions of both characters and places. This is one of the reasons why I (and probably many other people) have such a hard time with movie interpretations of beloved books.

During the time that you’re engaged with a book, the characters are part of your life and you inhabit their world, even if only as an unseen observer. You become protective – possessive even – of not only the characters, but of the story itself.

For example, I love Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy and as much as I like the movies (particularly Catching Fire), it’s just not possible to truly capture the nuances of the novels’ social and political drivers. These are thoughtful examinations of the ramifications of class warfare, oppression and income inequality that should make today’s economic and political leaders very nervous. But this seems to have been lost in the translation, as well as in the marketing. I know people who refuse to read the books or see the movies because “it’s just about kids killing kids”. Jennifer Lawrence does a great job of portraying Katniss Everdeen, and I do nothing to discourage my daughter’s hero worship, both of the character and the actor. But as good as the movies are, I don’t think they capture the complexity of her inner struggles. In all fairness, I don’t see how they could without the book’s first-person narrative.

So back to The Book Thief. The New York Times’ review does nothing to mitigate my apprehension, so I will wait to hear from somebody who loves the book as much as I do and who has had the courage to see the movie. That may seem like dramatic terms to you, but once I’ve seen a movie, its images and interpretation replace the characters and places the author invited me to create originally in my imagination. And then the experience is not mine anymore.

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About the Author

Lisa DelCol
An ex-pat Canadian who came to Oklahoma via Paris, France in 1999, I arrived with my husband...
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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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