The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)


I read this on a tip from a good friend months ago, and I am still trying to figure out what, exactly, I really think about it.

The gist of it is that it's the story of Liesel Meminger, a German orphan in the 1940's who is sent to live with foster parents in a small German town. Her foster family, (the Hubermans), take in a Jewish man and hide him in their basement. The "Germanness" of the plot is significant because the action takes place before and during World War II. I've read lots of Holocaust books, but none quite like this.
For example...
1. It is written from Death's point of view. Death was quite busy during World War II, and I found it odd and abstract to think of it all in this way. The personification of Death makes me uneasy, yet I do feel like it is a very real way to communicate all the loss of life during that time period.
2. Though written in narrative-style, it's not your typical, smooth flowing narrative. The parts and chapters are choppy and skip from one time period to another with no explanation. This is weird because it leaves the reader floundering to re-orient to the plot, yet that feeling also does serve the purpose of enabling the reader to get an idea of just how choppy and unsure and unsecure life was in Germany during that time.
3. Max, who is the Jewish man hiding in Liesel's basement, is interesting because he shows the guilty-feeling side of Jewish people who hid to escape Adolf Hitler's rage. He hurts constantly for the danger he puts them in, and he is tormented by the fact that Liesel and her family could be punished or killed just for hiding him.
4. The Book Thief is named so because Liesel falls so deeply in love with reading and with literature that she steals them. I'm no proponent of petty larceny, but is worth considering the reason for Liesel's thievery. She was a young girl in a hate-filled country in an era that paid little attention to the worth of a woman's brain. I found myself being proud of Liesel, not for what she did, but for having the courage to do it.
5. There is SO much sadness and death and dying and fear and anger in this book. It is hard to chew and even harder to swallow. However, it also has tiny little "ray of sunshine" moments that remind you of the complexity of human nature.
6. It is written about the German point of view of the Holocaust, and it does a good job of showing that not all Germans were Nazis and not all Germans were supporters of the murders of those millions of Jewish citizens.
7. If you like literary devices, this piece will impress you. There is an enormous amount of allusion to future events, which would make it seem like there are no real surprises in the text...yet there are twists and turns at every step.
The Book Thief is one of those rare books that picks and stretches your mind. It's scary and sad and hopeful and unique, and it isn't a book that fits any sort of mold...which is why I like it so much! The complexity makes it a nice choice for a book club or literature study, and would easily lend itself to some deep response writing.
The Book Thief is a 2007 Printz Honor book, a prestigious literary award given to works of excellence in young adult (teen) literature. Rumor has it, there's a movie version due out sometime this year.
I still don't know if I would want to see it.