The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak is a well written book regarding life, death, and areas in between.
The Book Thief’s narrator is Death, itself. That, in my opinion, was very unique and illuminated the prose in ways that a human narrator could not. Zusak’s use of Death as the story teller is skillful.
The story line centers around Liesel Meminger. She has been displaced by her mother, and sent to live with a foster family, Hans and Rosa Huberman. Her foster mother and father could not be more different, yet within their differences, they are more alike in respect to the fact that they both love Liesel. Hans is more demonstrative and extremely patient with Liesel. He is the comfort zone in her life, like a warm quilt on a cold evening, whereas her foster mother is more boisterous and foul-mouthed, and impatient.
The family dynamics are an integral part of the story line. Liesel realizes what she can and can not get away with, and how to function under the circumstances of her new life. Her backbone is stronger than she realizes, and Hans plays a major role in that respect with his kindnesses and love.
Liesel makes friends with two boys, and they are her support system, outside of her family. Max, is the creative one, and Rudy is the neighborhood friend. Their friendships grow and are cemented within the environment of World War II Germany. Food is hard to come by, life is hard to come by, and their friendships take them to heights that they otherwise might not become involved in. Survival takes them to realms and possibilities that they might not ordinarily succumb to.
The title of the novel comes from the fact that Liesel is an avid reader, which began when her brother died and the gravedigger inadvertently left behind a book entitled The Gravedigger’s Handbook. A book which in which Liesel eventually learns to read through lessons given her by her foster father. From there, sparks the taking of other books, books she reads over and over again.
As the story progresses, the foster parents are confronted with a situation in which they do not hesitate to involve themselves. Liesel is aware of the consequences, and does her part in being secretive. This is where her friendship with Max begins.
We see lives lived through Death’s eyes, and through Death’s necessity for patience regarding specific individuals and their spirits. At times he tries to take the spirit from a person, sooner than is planned, and his attempt is not meant to be. At other times we see the horrific results of war, the Holocaust, and Death is often overwhelmed with the victims he must move forward to other realms.
He does have his few soft spots, which I found interesting to read. He does have compassion, although it does not serve his needs. He is not there to be influenced by sympathy, because there is there to do a job.
The Book Thief is a story which tells of the human condition, with all of its suffering. Yet, within the pages, there are sparks of humor, more from Death than anyone else. Death analyzes situations, and tries to figure out humans and their behavioral aspects. He is mystified, and often confused. He does not comprehend the human mindset.
The novel details the horrors of war, and the situations of the Holocaust, and the daily lives lived on the German edge of life and threads of life. Markus Zusak is masterful with his word imagery and his prose, in an almost fanciful or elaborate manner. His sentences often verge on the surreal.
I won’t elaborate, so as not to spoil the story for those who want to read it, or for those who might want to see the film. I recommend The Book Thief, especially for young adults. It is a good read for adults, too, but better served, I believe for young adults. The surreal aspect of it will heighten the tragedies of war for young adult readers, and make them more cognizant of war, loss, survival, family dynamics and life…itself.
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