Monday, July 18, 2011

Review - The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Finally…I’m getting to my review of my latest book club book – Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. And a warning that there will be spoilers (though you know most of what happens from the beginning of the book), so if you don’t want to know maybe just read the book first and then come back and tell me what you thought of it. Because I would definitely recommend it!

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. . .
Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist- books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever they are to be found.
With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel 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.

I enjoyed Lisel’s story - though I will admit that I had difficulties with the subject matter of Hitler run Germany. In fact, the thing that we talked about in relation to this book with my book club girls was the inconceivability that something so horrible could have taken place right in front of people’s eyes. It’s not that I put blame on the German people, I truly believe that most didn’t know what was really happening. The one thing that they knew, which is conveyed so well in Lisel’s story is that if you wanted to live, you towed the party line. For Lisel and her foster family, that meant hanging the flag when they were supposed to, going to the right meetings, and saying all the right things…in public.

Zusak does a brilliant job of building the characters around Lisel that we learn to love them and all of their different ways just as she does. When the Hubermanns take Lisel in, I was truly a little scared for her. Rosa was not what I would call warm and Lisel learned some great new swear words quickly from her new foster mother. Watching Hans and Lisel’s relationship grow into one of a true father and daughter was so touching. In the end, you could feel all of the love that they had for one another with everything that they endured together, even if it wasn’t expressed the way most of us would.

One interesting thing was that Zusak created a bit of a love triangle that was beautiful and impossible and somewhat unknown to all the participants involved until it was too late. The question we all had at the end was…”Did she marry Max?” I think she did. I think that in her own way while she was helping care for him in the basement, she grew to love him and he was very much in love with her even though he knew that it would never be possible for them to be together.

Now, don’t panic just yet…I don’t think that she loved him the way she loved Rudy, but she knew that she would never love anyone like she had loved Rudy. So when Max came back into her life, she had feelings for him and his loving her was enough. (Now, this is all my own supposition as we don’t know really who she married…that’s just how it played out in my own silly writer’s mind!)

One thing that I have to admit; This was a hard book for me to get into. I don’t know if it was because I read it on my Kindle and the formatting at the beginning had me scratching my head or if it was the fact that the first thing you’re confronted with is Death talking about taking souls and the colors he experiences at those moments?

Having Death as a narrator was hard to process at first, but in the end, that was my favorite thing about the book. The idea is that Death is actually reading Lisel’s story that she wrote herself. And as I’ve said, I enjoyed Lisel’s story, but my favorite parts were when Death was telling his own little side views and opinions on things that were happening in Lisel’s story.

Here are two of my favorite parts. These are the two small passages that stuck with me long after I finished the last line of the story.

I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men.
They are not.
They’re running at me."

Death is talking about war and how the soldiers doing their jobs run out to the enemy, but it’s death that is waiting for them. I think this is so beautifully written and touches me because I do write about men in uniform who sacrifice of themselves.

“As is often the case with humans, when I read about them in the book thief’s words, I pitied them, though not as much as I felt for the ones I scooped up from various camps in that time. The Germans in basements were pitiable, surely, but at least they had a chance. That basement was not a washroom. They were not sent there for a shower. For those people, life was still achievable.”

What an amazing picture Zusak paints with this paragraph! Just from reading it, you can see the German families huddled in the basement as they wait for the signal that they can go back to their homes, thinking how they might die…but for the Jews in the concentration camp down the road it is more of a certainty.

Again, I would recommend this book for the characterization and because the subject itself makes you stop and think how lucky you are to be able to read what you want and that you don’t have to save books from a burning pile to read…

I’m off on yet another vacation for the next couple of weeks, and won’t have internet access so I won’t be updating next week. BUT I am doing a guest blog post on Lisa Sanchez’s Sizzling Summer Author Extravaganza on Wednesday the 20th. I’ll be giving away a signed copy of Indivisible and a little bit of swag including a very pretty notebook and pen! So head over there and help me with my inspiration problem and get in on the chance to win!

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