The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The_Book_Thief_by_Markus_Zusak_book_cover

This book tells about World War II and the Holocaust from an unusual perspective: that of ordinary German citizens. The narrator is Death, a fairly flamboyant personality who tells the story of Liesl Meminger. Liesl grows up just outside Munich, learning to read from her painter/accordion player foster father, playing soccer and terrorizing the neighborhood with her friend Rudy Steiner, and stealing books for fun. Getting inside the life of a normal family like Liesl’s shows how the Nazis were able to persuade thousands to assent to mass murder: fear and control. Once they were in power, it was impossible to speak up against the atrocities without endangering one’s entire family. Liesl’s family resists by hiding a Jewish man in their basement for a couple years. The most affecting scenes to me were the ones of trainloads of Jews being marched through Liesl’s neighborhood on their way to Dachau.

The book’s style is unusual. There are long and detailed chapter titles, occasional bolded notes, and a lot of page breaks. There are also some illustrations for two books-within-the-book, fairy tales written by the characters. The effect is fragmented and poetic, but also presentational, as if the narrator, Death, is putting on a show for you. He describes taking up souls by the thousands, from Russian battlefields, from gas chambers, from bombed-out streets.

This is one of those books that builds a vibrant world around you and makes you love the characters for the funny way they hide deep emotion under a gruff, joking exterior, using Saukerl (pig) as a term of endearment, then takes it all away through a tragedy that’s horrifying, melancholy, and inevitable. The story’s focus on learning and literacy isn’t just gratifying and affirming for an English teacher/book blogger, although that may be one of many reasons I like the book so much. Liesl’s addiction to books is about a drive to make meaning of the insanity of life in Nazi Germany, the urge to escape and transcend. Reading and writing literally save Liesl’s life, allowing Zusak to pull a bearable ending out of the overwhelming loss.

* * * A SMALL SUGGESTION * * *

Read this book.

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4 thoughts on “The Book Thief

  1. I MUST try and get to Elizabeth Taylor’s books in 2013! I’ve seen so many great reviews for her books. Re. The Book Thief : Hm… when I buy a book I never check if it is YA or adult literature. I found this one in the normal novel section when it had just been published and then it stood on my shelf until the many great reviews convinced me I should finally read it. And then it felt like YA, the simple writing style which sounds a bit (if I remember correctly) like someone is reading the story for a kid. What I didn’t like and where I thought that maybe the author had just been lazy with his research were those generalizations, like ‘brown eyes were suspicious’ or ‘all Germans had to join the NSDAP’, because they just give a wrong picture if the reader wants to get facts out of this novel.As a kid I read some interesting Holocaust literature which gave a good and realistic idea about the atmosphere and life in the third Reich as a Jewish child, even without the explicit mentioning of concentration camps and ‘smoke coming from chimneys’.But as I said in my review – I am sensitive when it comes to Holocaust literature and also couldn’t enjoy The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or “The Reader”. It’s not the book, it’s me. :-)I already read BT this year and also Doctor Thorne , but I will follow the GR and hopefully this will ecourage me to finally pick up book #4.

    • I don’t know much about the facts of life in Nazi Germany or how historically accurate this book is or isn’t. I haven’t done much reading or research in that area, though I’d be interested to learn more. I can see why you’d say the writing style is a bit simple; that wasn’t a turn-off for me personally. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Pingback: Best Books of 2013 | MeReader

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