Week 31–The Book Thief

***I have by no means finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, but I feel I must at least leave a note about my first impression. I just read the first three pages and I am hooked. Completely blown away. This novel is going to be amazing.***

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0375842209&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrThough the novel took me a while to finish (by “a while” I mean a week and change), it was by no means boring or difficult to read. In fact it is one of my top-rated books at a perfect five stars.  There is a combination of things that make this novel so compelling.  Markus Zusak is a master of tone and style. I’m not sure I’ve read much writing that compares to his.  While the books that are often my favorite mostly contain the bright colors and images of nature, Zusak’s describe the darkness and dankness of humanity’s cruelty towards its own.  Rather than the greens, azures, violets and magentas that I often prefer, his novel is primarily red, black, white, and gray.  To say the novel is beautiful is an understatement.  It haunts the reader when the cover has been closed.  It causes the heart to speed up and tears to well in the eyes. I challenge the most stoic of people to not be moved by this book.

It tells the story of a little German girl, Liesel Meminger, who at the beginning of the novel is ten years old. It is 1939, and the world is about to plunge into madness and war. As her small family is traveling to where Liesel and her brother will be staying with a foster family, her brother dies in his sleep.  At his burial beside the train, Liesel finds a book dropped by one of the grave diggers, and her fascination with books is born.  Though she is at first afraid to enter her foster home, she soon bonds with the man she comes to know as Papa, who comforts her every night when the nightmares of her dead brother come to call.  It is during these nightly episodes, once she has been calmed, that Papa teaches Liesel to read her book.  As she becomes a stronger reader, she acquires more books, through means both legitimate (being given books at Christmas) and illegal (climbing into the mayor’s library through an open window and stealing).  Later, her family takes in a Jew who is hiding from the Nazi’s.  Liesel and Max form a special bond, and in a way they each save the other.

Of course, there is much more action than this, but I refuse to give it away.  I am also torn on whether or not to give away the novel’s narrator.  Knowing that, should you read the book, you won’t have to wait long to figure it out, I’ll keep it a secret. I want you, my readers, to have feel the same puzzlement at the start of the novel, and the same moment of clarity when you make the connection.  I will say that he (I thought of him as a he, but maybe you’ll feel a she) is an interesting narrator–introspective, darkly humorous, and poetically inclined.  Perhaps one of my favorite voices in any novel I’ve ever read.

The plot is choppy, and the narrator often goes beyond foreshadowing, sometimes telling the reader exactly what happens in the future, so that instead of wondering what happens, the reader waits for the inevitable events to unfold. Of course, being about World War II, one can guess that it is not light and airy. But the novel is not without hope. With the exception of one truly dark moment, Liesel never ceases to find comfort in her books, and keeps a flame of hope burning despite the destruction, hatred, and decay happening around her.

I also offers a different perspective on those living in Nazi Germany at that time.  As Americans, we tend to lump all Germans during this era of history into one big ball of evil.  Yet Liesel and her family are German, and the reader comes to love them and hope for them, knowing that they are good, gentle people who fiercely oppose what is happening in their country, and operate covertly to undermine the Nazi cause.  When the bombs inevitably come, my American mind is naturally opposed to the idea that they are Americans trying to kill these characters that I have come to care for.  Yet Americans they are, and this draws attention to the fact that there are two sides to every war, and that the innocent tragically are bombed and killed alongside the guilty and the evil.  I am glad this novel is on some schools’ reading lists.  Kids need to read this.

Everyone needs to read this. I cannot emphasize enough how stunningly beautiful the novel is.  A word of warning though: it is very sad. I literally sobbed like a child at the end of the novel. Yet, as I said, it is not without hope, and the end of Liesel’s story demonstrates the ability of mankind to move on, and admires the resilience of the human heart.  I LOVE this book, and I think everyone else will too. Please, do yourself a favor and read this novel.

ex libris


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