The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I do not know how I am going to do this book justice.

This book is much deeper than books that I have read recently. There is no love triangle. The book is not salacious or full of teenage angst. This is not a book to devour; it is a book to savor. It is just a beautiful story written about a horrible time in world history. It focuses on the experiences of a young girl and Death.

The story of Liesel Meminger is told from the eyes of Death as he* goes through World War II collecting souls. Death does not enjoy his job and tries to focus on the beauty in the world while coming for the dead. He first meets the young heroine when he comes for her six year old brother, Werner, who dies on the train. They are on their way to their new foster home. This is also when Liesel steals her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook. She sees it while leaving her brother’s funeral. At this point Liesel is twelve and cannot read, but books call to her and she is fascinated by the words.

*Death is not given a gender in this book. “He” is not a person. He just exists as a conscious. I am calling it a he for the sake of grammar.

Next Liesel is taken to her new foster home and we meet Rosa and Hans Huberman. Hans Huberman has been added to my list of the best literary fathers along with Atticus Finch and Mr. Bennett.

This man is the moral compass for the book. He does what he can for his family and others. He is gentle and loving in a quiet, standoffish way. He does not push Liesel to love him, he simply is there for her when she wakes up from nightmares in the middle of the night and stays by her bed.

“*** A definition not found in the dictionary*** Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children.”

He discovers her obsession with books and her inability to read. He begins teaching her to read and write in the middle of the night, their secret 2 am classes.

Liesel and the Hubermans live in a poor area. Hans refuses to join the Nazi party at first and his ability to get work suffers because of this. However when his neighbors need his help, he paints their windows even when all they can offer him as payment is half a cigarette.

As the book comes to a close, there is a sense of impending doom. You know it’s coming, but you continue to read on. In a small way, it parallels the feelings of the characters; you march along with them towards tragedy.

While this book is not like the other books I have been reading, it does still have that dystopian feel. It’s about a small village in Germany during World War II. These people have to be careful what they say, who they talk to, what they read. They can’t speak ill of the Fuehrer. It’s about people who take small but important punches at the totalitarian government they live in. They do what they can to stay alive, but they don’t let the evils of their leader take away their humanity and empathy. And this book is about the importance of the written word. It provides comfort and support it dire times.

There is so much sadness in this book I am reluctant to tell people they should read it. The book made me cry and for a little while I was a little angry at the author and the woman who told me to read it. However, if you liked A Thousand Splendid Suns or Kite Runner, you would probably like this book. It doesn’t have a happy ending, but there is a sense of hope for the future. This is not a book that I will read again and again, but it will stay with me. I hope this book becomes part of the canon; I would love to teach it.

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