The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 14th 2006
Synopsis: The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that will be in movie theaters on November 15, 2013, Markus Zusak’s unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who 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.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
I’m writing this review in the middle of the night (I wonder what colors Death would be seeing right now…) and with tear-stained cheeks and with the last line of The Book Thief echoing in my mind: “I am haunted by humans.” A last line that is as ironic as it is powerful. I was struck speechless by that line, but now that I have recovered a bit, I can say with all the sureness in the world that I am haunted, and will probably keep being haunted for a very, very long time, by The Book Thief.
Now, I assure you that being haunted by The Book Thief is a burden that is as heavy as it is to being haunted by the entire human race, but being haunted by the memory of this masterpiece of a book can be a little wrenching. (Though, it can also be a whole lot rewarding. In fact, I urge you to go read this book and get haunted by it!) The characters and their struggles and their triumphs will stay with you, the narrator and his melancholy and his exhaustion will stay with you, all the emotions that you experienced awhile reading the book will stay with you, and the story, which is brilliantly and intelligently told, will stay with you.
The perfect choice of narrator is the part of The Book Thief that immediately made my heart get tied up by the story. Death is an ironic being, haunted by humans and exhausted from watching them tear one another down, even when humans are the ones believing themselves to be haunted by Death. This ironic being is an incredible narrator who perfectly fits the story. Death’s narration had me engaged at the very first page and told a story that could only be told in a way that Death could tell it. And really, I couldn’t help but be lulled and comforted by his words.
Death’s story is about Liesel Meminger, a German girl with a love for words so strong that she is willing to steal the books where they reside, and her life during a time of war. Liesel is a strong child who observes and looks at the world with wonder. She is the one whose story is told in The Book Thief. But, since Liesel meets many people over the course of her childhood, other characters do get caught up in her story. Liesel’s cigarette-smoking and accordion player foster father named Hans, foul-mouthed and tough foster mother named Rosa, adventurous and daring best friend named Rudy, the fist-fighter Jew hiding in their basement named Max, the mayor’s quiet wife, and many of the other people living on Himmel Street.
Liesel’s relationships with these characters and the characters themselves are complex and intricately written. Every interaction is important and is tied into the story with skill. I especially loved Liesel’s strong friendships with Rudy and Max and her caring relationship with her foster father. Rudy and Liesel were an amazing pair and their eventual love story was pure, innocent, powerful, and painful. Chasing books down rivers and stealing food were never made so sweet. Max and Liesel’s friendship was beautiful and full of impact. The painting of images on the basement walls and exchanging of stories stories squeezed my heart. The daughter-father relationship between Liesel and Hans was lovely. The parts of the book in which the two rolled cigarettes and listened to the accordion were some of the greatest parts of the novel for me.
The prose in The Book Thief is experimental and unique, and I absolutely loved it. Death’s way of describing things, specifically the weather and colors, was gorgeous and really added to the already melancholy atmosphere of the book. Emotions were flawlessly sketches with words. Zusak’s writing in this book is superb.
“The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness.”
One last thing that I think should absolutely must be said: The Book Thief isn’t about the suffering the Jew’s had to endure during the time where Hitler ruled. The Book Thief focuses on the lives of the Germans, which I think was an excellent decision for Zusak to make. Readers get the opportunity to see how people couldn’t go against Hitler’s beliefs without being beaten to the ground and how morality was a complicated thing back then and that many people were just doing what they could to get by, without anything being preached to them. Zusak doesn’t tell you what to think, he merely shows you what happened.
The Book Thief is an unforgettable piece of literature that, like I have said in the first paragraph of this review, will haunt me. Zusak said in an interview (that I really recommend you watch) that he didn’t set out to write a Young Adult book, he set out to write someone’s favorite book. I reply to his saying that with this: Markus Zusak, you have written a favorite book of mine.
*Images were found on I Am Haunted By Humans, a Tumblr site dedicated to this book.