Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Rating: 5 out of 5
From the back cover: It is 1939, Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, adn it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.
What I thought: I can not come up with the words to describe this book that would do it justice. It is that good. It is written from the unique perspective of Death, a wry, frank, and compassionate character who sees moments in shades of color: 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 across the redness. (p.12). We learn how Death comes to know the book thief and her story. It is an emotionally draining read.
Towards the end, I was reading parts out loud to my daughter when she was fussy, so that I could calm her down and try to finish the book at the same time. I had to stop, I literally could not read the story out loud without crying.
There is plenty of foreshadow. I know what is going to happen. I know how it is going to end. And I still sobbed through the last few chapters. Yet, a narrative filled with death and despair, one of the overarching themes is that of hope and love. There is so much love in this story, and overflows from the pages to the reader.
And, always a favorite for bibliophiles, it is very much a story about words:
She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half.
Then a chapter.
Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn't be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better.
What good were the words?
She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. "What good are the words?"(p.521)
I was particularly captured by the story within a story - the writings and illustrations of Max, the Jew hidden in the basement. His short story, The Word Shaker, could easily be a stand alone children's book. The book is marketed as young adult fiction, but is just as enjoyable and meaningful for adults.
For now, Rudy and Liesel made their way onto Himmel Street in the rain.
He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.
She was the book thief without the words.
Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain. (p. 80)
I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. (p.528)
*** A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH***
I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold.
And I don't have those skull-like
facial features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I'll help you out. Find yourself
a mirror while I continue.