Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak


Spanning the years of World War II, this story highlights the experiences of one young German girl named Liesel Meminger during this tumultuous era in Germany. The story is narrated by Death who, as he mentions many times, is very busy during this time. Liesel Meminger at age nine is taken to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family. They live in a poor neighborhood where she meets many of the supporting characters in the novel. Liesel is the book thief, an exploit that begins when she steals The Gravediggers Handbook from the graveyard where she watches as young brother is buried. Death becomes intrigued by Liesel’s own personal story, a story she eventually pens herself. Liesel collects more books from many other people including her friend Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayor’s traumatized wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and her foster parents.
What I Think:
Some books grab you the moment you start to read them and just won’t let go. “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak was one such book. The moment I started reading it, I was hooked. World War II era books have always been interesting to me, so I was hopeful about this book, but it far exceeded any expectations I had.
Making the narrator Death, who is unsentimental and yet not callous, is an ambitious feat that Zusak pulls off wonderfully. It provides a dark tone, which is appropriate for the troubling time period in which the story takes place. Death also provides insight into what’s going on in Liesel’s life (and the lives of her friends and family) as well as what’s going on in the greater world around her. Who would know better than Death himself about the murder of Jews and the death of the soldiers on the battlefield?
One thing that really pulled me into this book is the many different relationships that Liesel has with the people in her life - and the strong bonds that she develops with all of them. Her friend, and protector, Rudy has lemon yellow hair and tries in small ways to rebel against the Nazi regime he’s trapped in. He’s a good friend to Liesel. It is a relationship that is more important to both of them than either of them truly realize. Liesel also bonds with Max, the Jewish refugee that her family harbours in the basement. They share their fears of their terrible nightmares and both understand the power of words. There are many more powerful relationships, including Liesel’s foster mother Rosa Hubermann. Liesel forms a unique and strong bond with each other these characters. Her relationship with each of these characters reveals something about her own character traits. With Rudy, we see her  playful, childlike self. The good friend, the partner in crime. With Max, we see the caring, self-sacrificing, vulnerable side of Liesel; with Max, she is the Liesel is desperate to look after the people she cares about. With Rosa, we see the strong Liesel, the Liesel who learns to do what she has to do and endure the pain that might accompany it.
The most important relationship, and one of my favourite parts, in the novel is Liesel’s relationship with her “Papa” (also known as Hans Hubermann). He’s her foster father and he quickly becomes the centre of her world. He’s kind, gentle, thoughtful and willing to sacrifice himself for the people he loves. He is exactly what the vulnerable and broken Liesel needs when she arrives at his house having just suffered the death of her brother and separation from her real mother. I could not read this book without feeling a great sense of love for this amazing man and father. Not that he’s perfect - he’s a man with flaws like everyone else. But he’s a man with an overwhelming amount of love to give, love that he’s more than happy to share with anyone willing to accept it.
As a aspiring writer and an avid reader, another aspect of the book that I really liked was the emphasis on words. Words are powerful; Liesel and Max both see that in the words of Hitler that are controlling the country. Words give people unspeakable power. They can be a source of heartbreak, but also a source of joy. It is in each person to make the choice how their words are going to be used. The power that words have can be channeled into something positive, as Max emphasizes through the words he uses when he “rewrites” Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” It is in each of to decide what kind of impact our words are going to have.
This book is a treasure. It’s heartbreaking in many parts but it also contains a thread of hope about the resilience and goodness of humans like Liesel and Hans Hubermann and Max. There are so many things I could say about this book, but the most important is this: I feel like my life is different since reading this book. What more recommendation could I give?


LisaAnn said...

Nice to meet you through SheWrites, and what a beautiful blog you have! I look forward to exploring it further... :)

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