The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Maturity Level: 4
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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. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
The Book Thief was not at all what I was expecting. I don’t know what I thought I was getting myself into, but the oddities and the grittiness took me completely by surprise.
The portrayal of young people living in Nazi Germany was very challenging. Liesel and Rudy don’t allow you to demonize the German people and force you to think about what it must have been like for the other side. Yet that hate for Hitler and every death that happened rings clear throughout the book. I especially appreciated how the Narrator, Death, cherishes every soul, and honors every death. Everybody matters to him. He remembers each and every one of them. It’s comforting to think that even as we begin to forget the individuals who died, SOMEBODY remembers them and loves them still.
Of course, the real message of The Book Thief is the power of words. Words can change lives, change the course of the world. Liesel at times loves words and at other times hates them, but she is always affected by them. I think it was the same for me, reading. At times the story was so heartwarming and moving. A little girl loving somebody she was supposed to hate. But at other times the all too real descriptions of death and suffering made me hate the words, hate the book. For this reason I will probably never read The Book Thief again, the sad fate that awaits all World War II books that cross my path. Maybe the words have too much power over me, hurt me too badly. But then, maybe that’s the point. When we let words affect us in such a way we can be talked in to doing the most terrible (or the most wonderful) things.
To be honest, I feel that four stars doesn’t do this book justice. I should probably have rated it five. It is, without a doubt, one of the best young adult novels I have ever read. The story, the characters, the concept, and the construction are all flawless. But the death and suffering, well executed and important as they were, keeps me from truly enjoying and appreciating the book. World War II, and especially the Holocaust, leave a special dead spot in my heart. I wish I could just forget it all ever happened, but that’s both wrong and selfish. This is a five star book, just not for me. I hope that makes sense.