The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
There are some books you pick up in a bookstore, read the back, admire the cover and consider taking home with you. Then decide against it. You have too many books in your hands already and so back on the shelf it goes. You’re next visit finds you in front of the same book, with the same dilemma………maybe next time.
This book was published in 2005. For several years I would walk by this book, sometimes picking it up but never taking it home. It wasn’t until after I watched the movie (I know I know, always read the book first) that I ran to the store and finally brought it home with me, where it would then sit on my shelf for another year. Of course now I find myself wondering why on earth I didn’t read this the first time it was in my hand! Had I simply opened it that first day I would have enjoyed what is definitely going to be one of my all time favorite books, much much sooner. This book is beautiful, heart wrenching, tear jerking, brilliant, clever and at times definitely funny.
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. By her brother’s graveside, Liesel Meminger finds her life changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Graver Digger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burning, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish man in their basement, Liesel’s world is bother opened up and closed down.
It truly is difficult to choose whether to write about one favorite theme in the book or to touch on all of them. There are so many brilliant themes and stories within this one story. One that stood out to me the most was that this book is first and foremost about the Germans who were unfortunate enough to be stuck living under Hitler’s rule. Growing up in America we all have had these premature notions that all Germans, in relation to WWII, are cold hearted people. That simply isn’t true. Reading this book puts into perspective something we’ve all either forgotten or never bothered to think about. Germans are just people, people like us. There were many in Germany who hated Hitler as much as we did. Many whose beliefs were greatly rooted in humanity itself rather than hatred for those who dare to be different. As we see in the Diary Anne of Frank, there were those who risked their lives for friends, family and neighbors. The Hubermanns were two such brave people. There were also many children, like Liesel and Rudy, growing up in a cruel world they didn’t fully understand. Merely doing what adults told them to be the right thing to do.
Liesel – “I don’t understand. What did he do so wrong?”
Max – “He reminded people of their humanity.”
When we first meet Liesel she’s a nine year old girl thrown into a new foster family because her mother is a communist and wants to keep her last living child safe. Poor Liesel looses her birth family, is entrusted with the responsibility of keeping a secret that could take her new family away, and later struggles with the loss of a good friend she may never see again. Not to mention she has to abide by the strict rules her society has set down for her entire country. Rules her and her family do not believe in. All before she reaches puberty! Liesel’s character is forced to grow very quickly for her age. She does so beautifully with the help of the relationships she builds with Max through words and imagery, and Hans through his “accordion heart,” and compassion. I think those two are easily the biggest influences in her life, and of course the books. Hans (her foster father) teaches her to read and she becomes obsessed. When Max comes into her life he teaches her how to use those words and the power that they can hold. Demonstrated by Hitler and his rise to power through intensely intimidating speeches.
Words are indeed life. Zusak paints glorious images in our minds while simultaneously feeding us all the necessary emotions that will throw us right there on Himmel Street to accompany Liesel side-by-side on her journey.
Something fun I greatly enjoyed noticing are the captivating personalities of my favorite characters. Max’s was…….brilliant. Though he has no choice but to hide away in the basement he does not in the least bit seem to be a weak character to me. Through out everything he remains hopeful, astute and strong willed. It just amazes me that someone in such a dark situation can be such an inspiration to those around him. I adored the similarities between Rudy and Liesel, and Rosa and Hans. Rosa consistently berates Hans for….well everything. Likewise Liesel never misses an opportunity to give Rudy lip, calling him a soukerl the way Rosa so endearingly uses on Hans. Despite this Rudy is always very caring and kind towards Lielsel. “How about a kiss, soumensch?” He’ll ask after going to great lengths for her happiness.
There were a few moments when I felt a little frustration with our narrator, Death (though that frustration quickly dissipated). On a few occasions he gives away the ending. This he even admits himself.
Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and now so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.
– pg. 243
Yes, I very much agree that the most rewarding part of the book is the journey itself, not just the ending.
If, while reading this or watching the movie, you asked yourself “I wonder if I should read that book,” then the answer is irrefutably…..yes. I HIGHLY recommend reading the book before you watch the movie. However if like me you did the opposite, don’t worry. You will still greatly enjoy the book more. You may even feel as if they are two different stories as the movie absolutely does not do the book justice. The first time I saw the movie I cried. The first time I read the book, I died. Reading the book, you spend more time with the characters and you feel as if their relationships are your own. These people are your neighbors and your family and your mentor and your best friend. Words and books somehow become just as much a part of you as they were to the book thief herself.