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The Book Thief Paperback – Import, 2007
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Black Swan, UK, Trade Paperback with 558 pages and some b/w illustrations. A no. 1 International Bestseller. 1939 Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine year old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel St. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. This novel is narrated by DEATH. It's a story about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and a quite a lot of thievery. DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES!
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Top Customer Reviews
This is a beautifully balanced piece of storytelling by a young Australian writer: Marcus Zusak. The book is narrated by death himself. Death is rendered vividly. He is a lonely, haunted being who is drawn to children, who has had a lot of time to contemplate human nature and wonder about it. We are introduced to this narrator in the beginning and he is with us till the very end. It gives away the end and still wants you to keep reading on.
The narrative is easy flowing with glimpses of what is yet to come: sometimes misleading, sometimes all too true. We meet all shades of Germans, from truly committed Nazis to the likes of poor Hans Hubermann who hides a Jew in the basement of his very modest home. I was humbled by the realization that most of us are incapable of doing what noble souls Hans and Rosa do for saving the human race. This is what makes this novel truly remarkable.
The author says he was inspired by two real-life events related to him by his German parents: the bombing of Munich, and a teenage boy offering bread to an emaciated, withered Jew being marched through the streets. Both the boy and Jewish prisoner were whipped by a soldier while hapless crowd looked on! It is also the way in which Zusak combines such terrible events with truly believable characters and the details of everyday life in Nazi Germany. All this made The Book Thief so special for me.
In addition to the protagonist Liesel (the book thief of the title), there are some very important characters in the story. Those who particularly stood out for me are Rudy Steiner, a close friend of Liesel who is obsessed with the black athlete Jesse Owens. Ilsa Hermann, the mayor's wife, who has never recovered from the loss of her own son. Liesel's adoptive parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann and of course Max Vandenburg the Jew decorator whose father had saved Hans’ life during the first world war when they are both German soldiers. The growing relationships between Hubermanns and Liesel and, later, Liesel and Max Vandenburg are central to the plot. Max writes and illustrates a strangely beautiful short story for Liesel over whitewashed pages from a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf (the original print can still be seen through the paint). The powerful short story and illustrations almost broke my heart.
Hans, who can’t read very well himself, teaches Liesel to read. Liesel is effectively an orphan. She never knew her father. Her mother disappears after delivering her to her new foster parents. Her younger brother died on the train to Molching where the foster parents live. Death first encounters nine-year-old Liesel when her brother dies. It (death) hangs around long enough to watch Liesel steal her first book - The Gravedigger's Handbook, left lying in the snow by her brother's grave. Death has in his possession (I have always considered death as ‘she’) the book Leisel wrote about 1939 to 1943. In a way, they are both book thieves. Liesel steals randomly at first, and later more methodically. But she's never greedy. Death pockets Liesel's notebook after she leaves it, forgotten in her grief, amongst the destruction that was once her street, her home, her mama and papa. Death carries the book with him.
As I went through the book I kept feeling how real Liesel was! She was a child living a child's life. A life that has chores, soccer in the street, stolen pleasures, school fights, sudden passions and a full heart! Around her bombs are dropped, maimed veterans hang themselves, bereaved parents move like ghosts, Gestapo take children away and the dirty skeletons of Jews are paraded through the town.
However, there are a number of things that prevent this book from being all-out depressing. It is very powerful from the beginning but not morbid. A lively humor peeks through the pages. (a comment about German’s loving pigs, the childish chats between Rudi and Liesel). Furthermore, the vivid descriptions as well as the richness of the characters lift your spirits up. In this balanced story, ordinary Germans - those with blond hair and blue eyes are as much at risk of losing their lives, or are being persecuted, as the Jews themselves. It made me cry.
I won't go over the plot because many reviewers have done so already, but I will tell you this: The Book Thief was one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read in my entire life. Death's point of view is hauntingly sophisticated. This is one of my favorite quotes, "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.”
There are so many amazing layers to this book. I love the fact that it's a book about a book thief. I love how books are mile markers in her life, and how she herself can barely control the love and hate she feels for the power of words. I love the impact books have had on her life. The love that the characters have for Liesel is truly moving. The love that she has for them is heartbreaking in the most astounding way. This is a fictional book, but it's very much a true and honest look at humanity in its finest moments and its worst moments. It's as if Markus Zusak studied the human soul and was able to articulate its many range of feelings: love, grief, regret, relief, wonder, and everything in between.
This is a book that stays with you long after you are done with it. It took me ages to write this review because I wanted to do the book justice. I will end with another one of my favorite quotes from the book. “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”