Book Review : The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
“Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness.”
Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a nine-year-old German girl who given up by her mother to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann in the small town of Molching in 1939, shortly before World War II. On their way to Molching, Liesel's younger brother Werner dies, and she is traumatized, experiencing nightmares about him for months. Hans is a gentle man who brings her comfort and helps her learn to read, starting with a book Liesel took from the cemetery where her brother was buried.
Liesel befriends a neighborhood boy, Rudy Steiner, who falls in love with her. At a book burning, Liesel realizes that her father was persecuted for being a Communist, and that her mother was likely killed by the Nazis for the same crime. She is seen stealing a book from the burning by the mayor's wife Ilsa Hermann, who later invites Liesel to read in her library.
Keeping a promise he made to the man who saved his life, Hans agrees to hide a Jew named Max Vandenberg in his basement. Liesel and Max become close friends, and Max writes Liesel two stories about their friendship, both of which are reproduced in the novel. When Hans publicly gives bread to an old Jew being sent to a concentration camp, Max must leave, and Hans is drafted into the military at a time when air raids over major German cities were escalating in terms of frequency and fatality. Liesel next sees Max being marched towards the concentration camp at Dachau.
Liesel loses hope and begins to disdain the written word, having learnt that Hitler's propaganda is to blame for the war and the Holocaust and the death of her biological family, but Ilsa encourages her to write. Liesel writes the story of her life in the Hubermanns' basement, where she miraculously survives an air raid that kills Hans, Rosa, Rudy, and everyone else on her block. Liesel survives the war, as does Max. She goes on to live a long life and dies at an old age.
If you want a fast read, this book is not for you. If you only like happy endings this book is not for you. If you don't like experimental fiction, this book is not for you.
If you love to read and if you love to care about the characters you read about and if you love to eat words like they're ice cream and if you love to have your heart broken and mended on the same page, this book is for you.
“When death captures me,” the boy vowed, “he will feel my fist on his face.”
Personally, I quite like that. Such stupid gallantry.
I like that a lot.
Death himself narrates the story about a little girl named Liesel growing up with her foster parents in Nazi Germany. At the beginning, I felt somewhat intimidated by the idea of Death as a narrator. I assumed that his voice would be dark and thunderous, but for the most part, he was a ray of light illuminating earth’s saddest time. Incredibly insightful observations and occasional dry humor are only some of the things no one but Death could have brought into this story. Besides, we hear people calling God’s name every day for many reasons, but when Death calls to Him in despair and even those calls fall on deaf ears, no one can fail to understand the gravity of the situation.
I do not carry a sickle or a 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.
The Book Thief is not one of those books you read compulsively, desperate to find out what’s on the next page. No. It is, in fact, better to read it slowly, in small doses, in a way that allows you to savor every word and absorb the power and the magic it contains. All the while, you know what’s going to happen. Death has no patience for mysteries. However, anticipation of the inevitable makes it even worse. My whole body was tingling with fear because I knew what was coming and I knew that it was only a matter of time.
Zusak found a way to give a fresh approach to a much-told story. He offered a glimpse at the other side of the coin. Really, should we feel sorry for the people hiding in a basement in Munich suburbs? Sure, bombs are falling on their heads, but most of them are members of the Nazi Party, willingly or reluctantly. Some of them truly think that Jews are no better than rats. Some, on the other hand, are hiding a Jew in their own basement. Some are just innocent children. But the more important question is, are we any better at all if we don’t feel compassion and sorrow? Death does a great job of asking all these questions in a calm, unobtrusive way.
Some Quotes From the Book:
•“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.”
•“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
•“Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out.”
•“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that's where they begin. Their great skills is their capacity to escalate.”
•“There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:
1. He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else.
2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache.
3. He would one day rule the world.
...Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words.”
I’d rate this different yet powerful novel with:
Reviewed by Fouzia Umer