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"When Death tells a story you really have to listen"
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Member Name: magenta23
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Advantages: Story, characters, very moving
Disadvantages: A little difficult to get used to style but soon overcome and not really a flaw
The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death itself, who follows the story of a young girl, Liesel Meminger as she goes to live with a foster family after being abandoned by her mother and witnesses the death of her younger brother. During her time with Hubermann family, she makes a number of close friends, including a Jew, Max who seeks protection in the Hubermanns' basement. Through her friendship with Max, the guidance of her foster father, Hans and the taking of her first book found on the ground of her brothers graveside, Liesel learns to read and finds a passion like she never knew before. As the title suggests, before long she resorts to stealing books in order to fulfil her need to learn and read new stories. As much as Liesel loves to escape into one of her growing collection of books, they can not save her from the terrible things going on around her under Hitler's rule, and eventually she finds out no one can escape death forever.
It took me a little while to get to grips with this book. As I mentioned it's narrated by Death, which is more than a little unusual to begin with. In addition to this, it's punctuated by headings and quotes that at first seem a little odd, but as I read more, I got used to this and by the end it became clear what these quotes actually were about. I won't spoil it for you, but I'd just advise if you intend to read this and struggle to begin with, I'd urge to to stick with it because it really will be worth it.
The writing flits between straight forward story telling and Death using many metaphors to describe what he sees. I particularly like the way he describes what he sees in colours. At first, I struggled to understand this but after it crops up a few times I began to find it really adds to the description of the atmosphere of the scene. -
"The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places it was burned. There were black crumbs and pepper, streaked amoungst the redness."
Once I'd got into this book, and used to the unusual style I was hooked. The main character, Liesel is a courageous, likeable girl and as a reader I was with her the whole way. As Death narrates it he(?) actually lets out a few on purpose spoilers, saying when he 'met' certain characters before the story actually gets there. However, this actually adds to the affect and gently reminds you who's speaking throughout as more than once I forgot, being so engrossed in the story.
The book begins with one of those quotes I mentioned -
**HERE IS A SMALL FACT**
You are going to die
Essentially the story is just telling us how the characters reach the inevitable time when our narrator catches up with them, some slipping through his fingers a few times before he eventually gets them. He often comments about seeing some characters on his way to collect others. This I found particularly chilling.
This is quite a dark book as you might gather, with death being the main theme, after all this is at the time of the Second World War and Death is very busy. Having said that there are a number of very humorous parts, especially the sections featuring Liesel and her best friend, Rudy. There are also some moving parts, the relationships between Liesel, Hans and Max are particularly touching.
While the issues raised by the war, the situation of the family and the twists and turns of little girl's life make for a compelling read, the strength in this book is the characters. As I've mentioned Liesel is resourceful bright and likeable girl, complimented by Rudy, her cheeky friend. Then there's the brilliant foster parents, Rosa and Hans. Rosa is a large, foul mouthed lady with a harsh exterior, but we later see her soft side. In contrast, Hans is a friendly, good man which gets him into hot water being against the Nazi regime, however as a reader, again, we are with him all the way. I found the introduction of these two very funny, Rosa's foul language is translated to English and reads in some paragraphs like a manual for how to swear in German, very informative! The rest of the characters that live on Himmel Street are equally as interesting, and whilst they have their feuds between them, it's very moving the way it's all forgotten when the air raid sirens sound.
The Book Thief is written by Australian author, Markus Zusak. Whilst essentially a work of fiction, I've learned since reading it that a few incidents in the book were based on truth, from things that his mother witnessed during the war.
I have not read any other work by Zusak and this was a bit of an impulse read, but I intend to now as based on this he is a unique and talented author.
The Book Thief is classed as 'Young Adult' or Children's book in the places I've seen it but don't let that influence you. Myself and my mother both read this and loved it, and I think there's a few parts that may be on the heavy side for a Children.
I don't tend to like books about war, as such but some of the best books I've read are set in war time, and about the people that aren't fighting but struggling to live day to day, and making the best of the situations that war puts them in. This is one of those books. The Second World War in The Book Thief acts as a backdrop for a moving tale of friendship, loss and the courage of a little girl.
I can not recommend this book enough, I cared deeply for the characters and in the end felt as if I knew them, the mark of a well written book. The Book Thief is the only book that made me cry when I closed the back cover, not only for the moving and devastatingly sad moments in the story, but for the fact I'd finished of the best books I've ever read.
Summary: Simply brilliant