Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a haunting, yet wonderful book. It’s actually considered a young adult novel in many places, though it seems much more of a mature and complicated story than I would’ve enjoyed in my young-adult days. It takes a little while to get used to the narration and the structure of the book. The book is narrated by Death, and at first, I wasn’t sure it would work for me. Plus, Death has these bolded, starred outbursts (that my bff cleverly compared to the bubbles in Pop-Up videos) within his story, which causes a bit of disruption while reading. But after several pages, I got used to it and actually grew quite fond of Death as a narrator.

The story follows Liesel, a young girl growing up in a foster home in Nazi Germany. The Hubermann’s have taken her in when it was clear to her own mother that their family was in danger. Death comes across Liesel’s path in a couple of instances in her lifetime and is struck by this special girl, which is why he chose to tell her story.

A few themes I loved:

Death’s compassion. It hit me about halfway through the book that Death, at least The Book Thief’s Death, isn’t scary. He’s sad. He’s busy. He’s compassionate. He’s devastated about sitting up top bath houses and catching body after Jewish body that’s been gassed and killed. He can’t believe the things humans do to one another. He talks frankly about when he takes people and when he doesn’t. I learned to love Death as a character.

In the back of the book, there’s a Q & A with the author, Markus Zusak, and he says this about Death as a character: “Death was to be exhausted from his eternal existence and his job. He was to be afraid of humans – because after all, he was there to see the obliteration we’ve perpetrated on each other throughout the ages – and he would now be telling this story to prove to himself that humans are actually worth it.”

Hans & Rosa Hubermanns love. When we first meet this couple, they poke at each other, gripe at each other, call each other names. You think, 'Wow, this couple must loathe one another.' But it’s exactly the opposite. They are so much in love. When your husband brings home a Jew to hide in your basement and you ask no questions because you would do anything for him… Well, that’s love. And they loved Liesel like their own. It’s almost heartbreaking.

A favorite quote: “Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened. Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing that 24 hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew.”

The other side of the story. When we think of Nazi Germany, it’s so easy to hate all the people who lived there. How could they let this happen? How could they just stand by? Sure, we know the stories of people like the Hubermanns who were brave and helped those who need it. But, some just choose survival. They might not agree with the Nazi party, but they join, just to survive. They might not want to go fight for them, but they do so their son doesn’t have to. There is always another side. And it makes you wonder: Who would I be in that situation? Would I risk my butt? Or would I fly under the radar? Either way works, just as long as you live, right? And the same goes for current times. I try to remember to always give someone the benefit of the doubt. Because people can be going through some tough stuff and just need a break.

I loved this story. It was engaging and special and it sticks with you once you close it. It’s not joyous by any means, but there are several happy parts to it. Happiness to hang on to amongst the rubble.

I seem to enjoy books about WWII. A few other posts: The Zookeeper's Wife; City of Thieves; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; Those Who Save Us; and Sarah's Key.

5 comments:

Charley said...

Have you read I Am the Messenger? That was my first Zusak read, and I thought it had such a wonderful message.

A. said...

I haven't, but I'll definitely put that on my list. Thanks for the recommendation!

Em said...

I also loved this book. I agree with you - I don't think I would have appreciated it as much as a young adult as I did reading it as an adult.

doahleigh said...

I saw that you reviewed this awhile ago, but I wanted to read the book first. I just finished tonight and immediately found this post. I love your review, it's exactly what I was thinking! Thanks for putting my thoughts into words.

A. said...

Thanks Shannon! It's nice to know someone else felt the same way I did. I'm never sure if what I'm saying makes any sense. :) Glad you liked it, and I'm glad you came back to comment!