The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

It's just a small story really, about, among other things:
* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery

For various reasons, it took me a long time to finish this book; at 550 pages, it's not a short read, but I spent much longer with it than usual. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, because it allowed the book to really sink in, and it's certainly worth it to let The Book Thief sink in a little.

The story takes place in Germany during World War II and, curiously, is narrated by Death (who is, of course, fairly busy around this time in history). It allows for the omniscient narrator, but with its own distinctive personality. Death interrupts the story frequently with comments and asides, bold-faced and highlighted with asterisks:

* * * HERE IS A SMALL FACT * * *
You are going to die.

Liesel Meminger, the titular book thief, was sent to live with foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Hans, soft-spoken and silver-eyed, played the accordion and taught Liesel to roll cigarettes. Rosa: squat and spiteful, calling everyone Saumensch and Saukerl and always ready to give Liesel a good hiding. It takes a while for Liesel to grow accustomed to her new home, but eventually a sort of balance is struck. And then everything is thrown off-balance again at the arrival of Max Vandenburg, the Jewish son of a man who once saved Hans's life. The Hubermanns make the difficult decision to hide Max in their basement, while trying to keep up appearances as patriotic German citizens.

Throughout all of this, Liesel discovers a love of reading and begins stealing books: one at a snowy cemetery, one from a fire, and then more. The books divide her life into chapters, each significant for their own reasons.

The story is told with a lot of foreshadowing and flashbacks; and because it's historical fiction, you enter the story with a feeling of dread for everyone involved. But even in the middle of the war, there are moments of unexpected beauty and friendship, and Zusak wonderfully demonstrates the power of words for both good and ill. It's a poignant portrayal of the dilemma many Germans faced: what if you didn't agree with the Fuhrer?

The book is marketed as a Young Adult book but I think it holds its own with adult fiction just fine. I don't want to give away much more of what happens in the book; check this one out if you want something with some depth to it.

Fed to jonathan's brain | May 13, 2009 | Comments (0)


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