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The Book Thief - Heartfelt and Achingly Beautiful
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Member Name: Krystles
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Date: 17/04/09, updated on 17/04/09 (573 review reads)
Advantages: Well written, powerful story
Disadvantages: Initially difficult to read
The highly regarded novel 'The Book Thief' by Author Markus Zusak has written a novel set in Nazi Germany that introduces a collection of well-realised characters whose lives are continuing against the backdrop of WWII.
Australian author Markus Zusak is 34 years old and lives in Sydney. He was born to an Austrian father and a German mother. On his publisher's website (http://www.randomhouse.com/features/markuszusak/a uthor.html) it states
'Markus Zusak grew up hearing stories about Nazi Germany, about the bombing of Munich and about Jews being marched through his mother's small, German town. He always knew it was a story he wanted to tell.'
The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is sent away to a foster home by her mother. It is on this journey that Liesel first becomes the Book Thief. The story is narrated by Death, who is presented as a compassionate observer of humanity and a unenthusiastic collector of souls. He observes Liesel's experiences relates her story to the reader as a beacon in the joyless world of Nazi Germany with the background of WWII.
The story starts as Liesel and her brother are sent away to live with the Hubermanns, a foster family. On the way to the Hubermanns, Liesel's brother dies. As the gravediggers are burying her brother, Liesel steals the gravedigger's handbook, despite being unable to read. When she arrives at the Hubermann's house on Himmel Street in Molching she meets her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel also meets Rudy Steiner, a neighbourhood boy around her age who will become her best friend. Liesel's relationship with her foster parents is important in Liesel becoming the person who intrigues Death so much that he keeps returning to her story. Her father Hans teaches her to read, while he mother Rosa has a stern demeanour but deep down a big heart, and she and Liesel eventually develop a deep relationship.
The arrival of Max Vandenburg on the Hubermann's doorstep signals a change in their war experience. Never a supporter of Nazi Germany, we learn that Max's father saved Hans's life during WWI. This event leads to Hans question the persecution of the Jews, but he knows that he cannot contest it outright at the risk of being persecuted too. However, Hans does challenge the Nazi regime, but does subtly, painting over anti-Semitic slurs written on Jewish shopfronts. Hans is aware that members of the party in the neighbourhood question his commitment to the cause of the party, but he dutifully plays the game of pretending that he is part of the cause. Sheltering Max Vandenburg in his basement is Hans's biggest act of defiance against the Nazi regime. Max becomes close friends with Liesel, and he chronicles the events of his hiding in two homemade books made by painting over the words of Hitler's book Mein Kampf. When Hans helps a Jew as he is marched through town to a camp, Max must leave in case the Hubermann's is searched by the Nazis.
When the Party demand that Rudy be sent to a train as a soldier the Steiners refuse. Rudy's father Alex is taken instead as punishment. Hans is also taken. After an air raid, an Allied plane crashes just outside the town. Death encounters Liesel who is with the pilot as he dies. As the daily threat of air raids increase, during raids the neighbourhood collect in basements deemed to be of a satisfactory depth for protection. Here Liesel becomes conscious of the power of words reading aloud to her neighbours and family to help pacify people's fears.
The final event of Himmel Street is catastrophic and results in Liesel discarding an autobiography she is writing which is picked up by Death. The story ends as Death visits Liesel to collect her soul, who has lived her life in Sydney. Death questions Liesel about her life and admits that he is haunted by humans.
I initially found this book quite difficult to get into. The style of writing can feel a little stop start, which interrupts the flow, at least initially. However, the more you read the more used to it you get and the ease of reading the novel improves. Death is an element placed at the forefront of the book, both because the story is taking place in WWII Germany and because the narrator is Death. The personification of Death as a thinking, feeling entity who undertakes a thankless task that brings it in touch with unspeakable brutality is a most interesting technique. That Death would find and connect with a sadly beautiful story like Liesel's seems entirely plausible.
While the war is ever present in the story, the book deals more with the day to day events of people's lives. The development of Liesel's character is a highlight of the book. Traumatised by the twin occurrence of being sent away by her parents and the death of her brother, she is initially reluctant to become part of the Hubermann family. The moulding of her character through her experiences of learning to read with Hans and her affinity with literature and words is delightfully realised
The Book Thief is a touching story about people dealing with horrific times. It deals with relationships between people and gives an insight into how ordinary people survived extraordinary times. The unique perspective of the story being narrated by Death may annoy some people, but I enjoyed this viewpoint, finding it enjoyable when Death reflected on the times.
Summary: A great book, highly reccommended