This book causes a hangover.

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The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

A ‘Book Hangover’ is when you walk around wishing you never finished that book. That angst-laden, nostalgia-fraught feeling, that things will never be the same again after that book. That no author will ever match up. That you will never again read sentences, paragraphs and chapters so beautifully coiffed, or storylines so emotionally seductive. That while you were busy tweeting and trolling Instagram, this book sat somewhere undiscovered by you, your paths refusing to cross. And you wonder how many books like that are out there, unknown to you, passing you by like shadowy ships in the dark. What a Book Hangover really is though, is that feeling when you have broken up with someone you quite fancy and you imagine – quite wrongly – that you might never meet anyone like them again. A Book Hangover is one of the perils of loving books, knowing that in this love you will be seduced, and then used and discarded to mend your broken expectations. A good book always triumphs in the end.

I’m currently in this state of literary peril. I just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. And that’s another thing; I remember the exact moment and place I finished the books that made the biggest impression on me. And I remember the exact feeling the book exhumed from my soul.

I finished Mario Puzo’s Fools Die in campus in a small single-roomed hovel in Kansanga which I shared with Gasirigwa, my Pan-African-frenzied Tanzanian roomie. It was in the afternoon, right before I left for the gym and I remember thinking about how the candle simply flickered off on the characters in that book, without even a breeze. I finished About A Boy by Tony Parsons in my little SQ on a hot weekend. I was working my first shit job out of campus, earning 20K a month writing about gardening and landscaping, for crying out loud! I almost finished John Green’s Fault In Our Stars in Dar at 2am. With a few pages to go, I stopped and walked out of the hotel room balcony which opened out to the sea, heart heavy with  emotions leaping and weirdly feeling aroused with the impending emptiness that the end of the book spelt. I finished This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz when my campus chum, Kagame was visiting from Canada, a reunion that was happening after seven years. Later we polished off a bottle of whisky at Explorer Tavern, and I remember blurting out at the tail end of his spiel about shit he did to get to where he is now; “Are you happy?” I regretted that question immediately, because in his typical Kagame brutality, he slammed me against the wall with one disgusted statement; “What is this, campus all over again where we were caught up in figuring out if our happiness shapes our worlds? Fuck it, Biko, we are grown now, we don’t talk about happiness anymore. We live life.” I stood up and left for the bathroom feeling like an over emotional girl on her menses. Well, screw you, Kagame.

The feeling these books elicited remained with me for days.

I finished The Book Thief at 3am when I couldn’t sleep. I sat in darkness for a long time feeling like a deer caught in blinding headlights. The next day I walked around slightly depressed, confident that I’d never find another book like that. I googled Zusac feverishly, just to see what he looked like. How can anyone write such a tragic and overwhelming book? I went on Amazon and searched for more of his work. Then I realized that what I actually wanted to do was shake his hand, and reaffirm that under his skin, his blood was warm like mine. The feeling persisted. This gloom. This throbbing irony. This underwhelming feeling that an overwhelming book brings you to in the end. Then I asked Aleya, a lover of books, about it and she said sagely, Biko, you are having what is called a Book Hangover.

I won’t spoil this for you, but The Book Thief is a book narrated by death. Yes. It’s set during World War 2, in a small Nazi German town. There you will meet Liesel a nine year old girl. And you will meet Hans. There is a violin, from which this story – a story of characters haunted by war and their own choices – is hung from. Quarter way through the book you will walk into a Jew, hiding in the basement of a house belonging to a German. You will also find a violin in the kitchen of that house, played by a woman – Rosa- who insists on sulking throughout this book. Then of course there is death, looking over these doomed souls with his morbid sense of humour. The book stayed on the New York Best Seller for 230 weeks.

Zusac writes these ghoulishly beautiful sentences that if you watered daily would grow into a short-stemmed rose without thorns. Consider this: “His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.” Or when death says: “I’m haunted by humans.”

I’m a very slow reader, mainly because I nurse massive literary abandonment issues. I don’t want to leave behind beautiful sentences. For what? I go back to chapters and re-read them, afraid that I might have missed a phrase, an idiom, an analogy. I want to suck every marrow off the page, until it whistles with emptiness as wind blows through it. And I want to put these gorgeous paragraphs in my wallet and peek at them in traffic jams when I’m doing nothing. So I jealously re-read pages and lines.

It took me almost a month to finish The Book Thief. The result of this was a wallet bulging with paragraphs. The only thing more beautiful than money in your wallet are beautiful words.

In the end The Book Thief left me feeling cheated. But I should have predicted this outcome given that death was controlling the narrative. Advice to you? Create space in your wallet. Zusak is coming to you with a mallet.

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36 Comments
  1. I knew I have seen that tittle somewhere,unfortunately I saw the movie before knowing a book existed. The movie left me hanging,after the last attack and death I went blank,not noticing the movie was over and the screen had gone back. It gets you thinking about alot.

  2. ” I go back to chapters and re-read them, afraid that I might have missed
    a phrase, an idiom, an analogy. I want to suck every marrow off the
    page, until it whistles with emptiness as wind blows through it.”

    You color write pretty vividly yourself.

  3. Oohhh amazing… i must say i have once mmmhhh not really once..felt that way. The Hours by Michael Cullingham, it was..it still is a great book. But i am a fast reader. I read books within hours…i don’t sleep until i am sure i know the end. Maybe that’s why i miss the beautiful phrases and analogies as you have said. I will now learn to be a slow reader. That way i may feel how truly amazing it is. I will look for this book. The book Thief 🙂

  4. Currently reading Fools Die. The character, Merlyn the magician, who is also the narrator, is one to fall in love with.
    Oh, and Mario Puzo’s opening monologue…kills it.
    In other news, Jeff Koinange;s book is out, yes?

  5. You took the words right out of my head. Reading every line made me pick your thoughts too. I often feel like an orphan when am about to put a good book to rest. Damn!! Books also arouse dangerous emotions- race; love; culture.. N I totally get the slow readers part. I suffer from it. I love your articles because I relate. If humanitarianism didn’t at pull me, I would def. be in the deepest of the literary world. Thank you Biko.

  6. Beautiful! I bought The Book Thief and dan Brown’s Inferno at the same time, am half way through Inferno..can’t wait to get to the Book Thief after this review..oh..I should’ve mentioned..I bought the books in December last year haha..

  7. Yeah…I saw the movie too,as always nothing can beat a book,movies never tell the emotions at the time or what another person really feels. My advice Biko read an interesting happy short story(kutoa lock..)

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  8. Writers area breed apart. Asexual, ungenndered, unfettered souls that exist in written words only. Most writers, like Bike are strangely ineloquent. It is paper that pulls words out of them. Biko, would you recall a speech as wonderfully as u recall what you’ve read? Are you as profound of speech as you are of writing? Shucks, forget it. I’ll read that book. Because it’s probably good, and harrowing. A haunting book, like the books Ngui writes. Books that rustle up a soul, and tug at the heart till you feel it tearing. Those are the books you must read to reinforce your connection, in your capacity as a human being, to your humanity.

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  9. Well well well… The hunter has become the hunted. I suffered the same symptoms myself when I started reading this blog. My first ever story here was …. wait for it……

    Ochang!!

  10. I understand your hangover, I have watched the movie (five times or more now) and each time I am mercilessly reduced to tears, I am not even ashamed of that. I loved Leisel, Hans & Rudy. Despite watching it I would very much love to read the book- and never lend it. 🙂 I’m glad we share sentiments on this, had thought I was being too emotional.

  11. I love how well put together this is, your posts leave me with a banging hangover too. Most of the hangovers anyway are from movies..not much of a reader. I prefer to sleep in a jav instead of reading #Sigh

  12. I know what exactly you mean! I’ve resolved to making sure I have another book to dig into about a day after I finish a book! I’ve also mentioned a few of my literary suggestions on http://www.wamboikay.com, although i must admit most of them relate to women!
    Thank you for your recommendations.

  13. I know the feeling. I haven’t read ‘The Book Thief’ yet but it’s now in my bucket list. One book though that I will never recover from is ‘The Fault In Our Stars’. I’ve read it around six times now since discovering it last week and all I want is to meet John Green (the writer) and give him a warm hug. The book is a part of me now. A quote from the book that sums up how I feel is “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical
    zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be
    put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

  14. I always suffer from “book hangover” whenever I read your articles ave always wondered if there is another color writer who write’s likee u

  15. “”The only thing more beautiful than money in your wallet are beautiful words.””thats deep….Great! Biko at his best but one correction though ..About a boy was by Nick Hornby Tony Parsons wrote Man and Boy and Biko when will u write a book? i hope i will live to read

  16. The book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and The twelve tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. If you can bear it 🙂

  17. hmmm been a while since i read a good book. am currently readingThe-God-of-Small-Things-by-Arundhati-Roy and LOVING IT….hope to read that book someday..

  18. Aaaah these books. You said it as it is Biko. Books give me a high, like a relationship that takes off and soon you are wondering what your life was like before. Sometimes emotions are so overwhelming I turn to the back cover and read about the author, that they lead a relatively normal life disappoints. I eat up my books, savour the words with every page turned, all the time knowing the end draws nigh, and soon this ‘thing’ we have will end. And it ends. I am left feeling raw, empty. I look around for someone I can share these exact same feelings, mostly come up empty. Lots of books have done this to me; The ‘Colour Purple’ by Alice Walker and ‘Their Eyes
    Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston stand out.

  19. Now that’s what I have. Book hangovers every 2 weeks. These hangovers leave me lost somewhere between love and heartbreak.

  20. If anyone of you hasn’t read the book I’d strongly advise you to. Death catches you with his introduction of the setting and characters. And Zusak’s portrayal of death makes the mind cross the boundaries of imagination.

  21. Really, Bousi, every fortnight? Then you must be a reader of undiscriminating tastes, because unlike Countryman, this is supposed to leave you floored only once in a rare while (ask Alleya). 48th Ronin, bought the book in one of those airport transit places two weeks ago and happily ‘plotting’ to read it all next week in a poolside deck chair in Watamu as i sip ‘Countryman’ cocktails ( picturesque, eh-))?). Biko, at first when I saw ‘book hangover,’ I thought twas my ‘Night Runner’s Guide’ you’d read (just kidding). I remember weeping when I finished ‘the god of small things’ (things can change in a day) at the beginning of my college years. And then, again, Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Poisonwood bible’ at the twilight of college, with its haunting last sentences ‘you are afraid you will forget, but you never will. You will forgive, and remember. Think of the vine that curves from the small plot of earth that was once me. That is the only marker you need.’ Yes, like the lachrymose tears of a drunk at dawn. Only these tears leave you lacerated … and with the taste of tragedy on the tongue.

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  22. I looooved The Book Thief, it grabs you and refuses to let go., the writing siiigh was beautiful, How have i never come across this post. * frantically googling all the books mentioned now*

  23. Here l am, glued to your blog from yesterday i think i should wash my face..Hahaha… l got to know about it yesterday and am craving for more of the articles. l like the humor and creativity

  24. I met her. Liesel. Last Friday as I was going out of town for a retreat. A friend suggested the Book Thief to me. Now I can’t imagine finishing it, even as my right thumb forms an ellipse of the page waiting to flip it over. The feeling of not chewing a piece of candy but pressing it hard between tongue and roof and disintegrating it all the same. Sweetly. The story continues…