Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Technically, the idea of writing a book from the point of view of Death has problems since there are many scenes in The Book Thief where Death isn't present. But the choice works. Markus Zusak seems to be saying that Death is hanging over everything in Germany during the time leading up to and throughout World War II. This is something that has been said many times before, but his way of saying it is unique.
Like all well written books, The Book Thief is about different things. The story looks at the power of words in multiple ways. The most important of these is as a mechanism to convey Hitler's message of hate. Late in the novel the pages of Mein Kampf are painted over in a wonderful symbol of the resistance to that hate. But the story isn't only about Hitler's words. Liesel steals a book and becomes enthralled by words even before she can read them. She connects with her father, with Max Vandenburg (a Jewish man her foster family is hiding), and with Frau Ilsa Hermann (the mayor's wife who has a large personal library) through their shared love of words. Rudy, Liesel's best friend in her community, doesn't share her love of words and for that reason her relationship with him always seems to be missing something.
Although the theme of words runs throughout the book, the core story is about a German family and their need to resist the hate that is pervasive in their country. Rosa, a foul mouthed, strong willed woman, and Hans, her gentle, but equally strong, husband, take in Liesel, a foster child who has lost her mother to the brutal politics of the time. Later they hide Max, who comes to them because his father had saved Hans' life during World War I. Hans hides Max, but also tries to do what his community considers proper by applying to join the Nazi party. Yet Hans can't put his heart into it this act of hypocrisy. He cares too much and so does Rosa in her own way.
The Book Thief is a wonderful book about, among other things, keeping ones humanity while living through horrible times and coming of age in a world that's falling apart.

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