The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Published September 18th 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf (first published 2005)
Setting: Molching, Germany
Literary Awards: National Jewish Book Award, Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Children’s Literature (2007), Buxtehuder Bulle (2008), Prijs van de Kinder- en Jeugdjury Vlaanderen (2009), Printz Honor (2007)
Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2007), The Quill Award Nominee for Young Adult/Teen (2006), Zilveren Zoen (2008), Teen Read Award Nominee for Best All-Time-Fave (2010)
This is the story of a young girl living with her foster parents in Germany during World War II. Narrated by Death himself, we come to know about Liesel Meminger, the book thief. The novel relates to us her life, her relationships and the unrelenting suffering she and the people around her endure. We see the story of German civilians who were as much at risk as their ‘enemies’. Despite this and the weighty subject of war and the Holocaust, the novel strives to bring to us the stories of the people at the time – the dangers they face, the choices they make and the love they share. While there are depressing tones in the novel, hope and goodness triumphs.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing thing about the novel is the narrator: Death. One would wonder why the author chose someone or something that most people fear so much. Yet Death, as we will later know, is an excellent observer, impartial, hardworking, someone (or something) capable of sympathy, and dare I say, not at all bad even with that ‘threat’ in the beginning of the novel. Now that let’s you wonder. How can that be? Is Death capable of such things? Is he/she/it capable of empathy, humor, crying and appreciation of beauty? That fact in itself intrigued me.
The characters of the book were all memorable. They were rich and real. As a reader, we come to know the characters more than they know about each other. You feel that connection with them you can perhaps describe but never enough. Both their sufferings and triumphs are yours to feel. You empathize and care for them. Words are indeed powerful. With Markus Zusak’s novel, his words encompassed a world of such character, one might ask if he was even there- if he knew these people.
I loved the idea that Liesel learned to read because of her foster father. Determined, Liesel stayed up at night together with Hans Hubermann, to learn how to read- slowly but surely. Then you realize that this love for reading, coupled with encouragement by the Jew they were hiding, eventually fuels her love for writing. In the end, words saved her. Literally. Can we really understand the complexities of words? How they create and destroy at the same time? Their power can never be underestimated, which is especially true if these words are spoken by those who know how to manipulate words.
Liesel is the center of the story but I especially love the character of Hans Hubermann. And why not? He is the epitome of love, kindness and good sense in the world where they lived in. An accordion-playing man, Hans teaches Liesel how to read and gives her the acceptance and love a young girl needs. That same man hides a Jew in the basement to fulfill a promise made so long ago. In my eyes, Hans is the perfect example that men are essentially good. Not only does Hans Hubermann show this, but even his wife, Rosa. Rosa can be foul-mouthed but deep inside, she is good and beautiful. Their love for Liesel were not shown in the same way; Hans being the kindly father that he is, and Rosa ever so generous with her name-calling and curses.
Perhaps I’m being too detailed with this review but let me just say that this a terrific book simply because it allows us to confront the difficult past, real emotions and the complexities of life. I think the book’s appeal lies in the fact that it is so true to life, right down to the joys and sufferings, the innocence of the children and emotions they feel. Surely emotions are not standardized or set by race, color or gender. This book gives us a different perspective of the war. We are witnesses to the destruction and horror in World War II, but this novel isn’t about the Holocaust or the war itself. It is a story of people trying to survive in that war, no matter what side they’re in.
In my hands was a literary marvel whose words have the ability to thrust you into a world where the characters are alive and the emotions so blatantly real. Markus Zusak has woven perfect patterns with his words. His writing is beautiful and profound. The story holds you right from the start. Truly unforgettable, no doubt about it. A book to be devoured and treasured. This book has now become one of my favorite books of all time.