Friday, 10 October 2014
Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is a novel about the power of words. It follows the story of Liesel Meminger an orphaned German child whose communist mother is persecuted and must leave Liesel and her brother with an older German couple, Hans and Rosa Huberman, who have grown children that no longer live with them.
Liesel's brother dies on the train ride to the Huberman home and after his passing the story follows Liesel's upbringing with Hans and Rosa. The Huberman's must openly support the Nazi cause and Adolf Hitler in spite of their secretive disdain for the Nazi Party and what it stands for. Hans who affectionately becomes Papa to Liesel is the comforting and supportive figure in her upbringing while Rosa is the tough but loving Mama who protects Liesel but will not pamper her.
Liesel becomes best friends with Rudy Steiner a boy from the same neighborhood who once (prior to ever meeting Liesel) raced around the town track painted black as he pretended to be the American Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens. Rudy also has an unfailing crush which turns into an unfailing love for Liesel.
Liesel who does not know how to read or write when she arrives at the Huberman home has a fascination with books, even before she knows how to read and she ends up stealing books and learning how to read from her Papa in the basement of the Huberman home.
The Huberman's adopt another visitor of sorts during the story, Max Vandenburg, a Jewish boxer who seeks refuge in the Huberman home when Hans Huberman must repay a debt to the son of the Jewish man who once saved his life during World War I.
Liesel also becomes close to Max and faithfully keeps the family secret as Max lives for several months in the Huberman basement, not even sharing the knowledge of his presence with her best friend Rudy Steiner.
The heart of the story though is about Liesel's love of reading and love of words. Liesel become's a light in the darkness that is Nazi Germany in the little town of Molching as World War two progresses. Her friendship with Max, the Jewish Boxer is what helps her to understand the power of words and how they shape all that is evil and all that is wonderful about people and our world.
Liesel learns how words can make you laugh, cry, love, fear and live or die.
Another central figure is the town mayor's wife who becomes a willing victim of Liesel's book thefts, when several of the books Liesel takes are from her home library, because she feels a kind of kinship in their mutual love of reading.
As you might expect with any book that is about Nazi Germany during World War Two there is a great deal of hardship and heartache. And outside of Liesel herself the most prominent character in the story is the narrator, Death. As you might expect with any book where Death is the narrator too, the degree of fear, heartache and struggle is palpable.
Death as a narrator, while he is focused on doing his job and does not intercede with the fate of those who's time it is to die, is a humane figure. More humane in fact then Adolph Hitler and the many humans who are responsible for causing so much destruction upon their own human race.
The story is so well written and wonderful that I did not really think or notice how I get caught in the emotion of it. There are other books that I have read which I feel tug at my heartstrings throughout the story. In the Book Thief I did not even notice all the emotional build up until very near the ending when I was taken by a fit of crying that I had not befallen me since my own father's passing back in 2005. Other stories have elicited a tear or two, but the Book Thief broke me down like no other book I can recall having ever read.
I think the book has so many important lessons and morals that can be taken with it, and those shine through as only they can when a story and it's characters are so heartbreakingly real.
There is an intense humanity the rises from a book in a time where it's hard to believe humanity existed on any level. It's perhaps in that fact where the emotional strength of the Book Thief exists most.
I hope our readers will take the time to read the Book Thief and take away from it how much our words make a difference, how our words can build or tear down, and give life or destroy. Most of all I hope we will all think about how important it is to be a Hans or Rosa Huberman or a Max Vandenburg or a Rudy Steiner or a Liesel Meminger when life is in it's most dire state and people need love, friendship and help in spite of the risks and dangers that challenge the very fabric of life. There are people and ideals worth standing up for, even at the ultimate sacrifice. No book I've read brings that message home any stronger than Markus Zusak's the Book Thief.
review by Jon Bear
Carlyn's review of The Book Thief