Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on 14 March 2006
Genres: Action & Adventure, Adolescence, Afterlife, Death & Dying, Family, Friendship, Historical, People & Places, Politics & Intrigue, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Social Issues, Survival Stories, Young Adult
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Place(s) Traveled To: Molching, Germany (1940s)
First Line(s): First the colors.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a conversation with Death? What would you talk about? What stories might he share with you? The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is how I’d imagine such a conversation to go. The story centers around Liesal Meminger and begins in 1939 Germany when she is 9 years old. It is then that two things happen: 1) she steals her first book and 2) she is brought into Death’s notice. The Book Thief follows Liesal’s life as she moves in with her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann and takes her through out most of World War II. Liesal’s first act of book thievery is an odd one, because at the time she doesn’t know how to read. It isn’t until she moves in with the Hubermann’s that she learns this skill and becomes a devourer of words.I first heard about this book on that most addictive of websites LibraryThing. It is one of those books that has gained a lot of hype around it. This always makes me wary because books seldom live up to the hoopla (that Twilight fiasco comes immediately to mind). However, in this case I found the hype not only to be correct but also understated.
The Book Thief is a beautifully poetic story about growing up in Nazi Germany. Its about dealing with the propaganda and trying to find ones place in the world. I love how this story gives an added understanding to that time period. Reading the history books it is so easy to misunderstand what people living in Germany thought at that time. This book highlights how scared people were of not following the doctrine of Hitler, not because they believed because of what would happen if they didn’t have the appearance of believing. It is a story of love, loss and the struggle to survive. It is about courage and miracles and the colors that exist in the world. This book is about wonder and learning. The horrors of war and the idea of peace. There are stories within the story. And an addictive quality to the words that just make you want to keep turning the page.
Death is also the perfect narrator of this story. I am not sure that the story would have had the same power if it had been Liesal or some unknown 3rd party narrator telling the story. Death holds nothing back in his telling. And even though he often gets ahead of himself in the telling of Liesal’s story and you pretty much know most of what is going to happen before it actually does there are no apologies. In his words ‘Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only for the entire book, but for this particular section of it. I have given you two events in advance because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. […] Its the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much to the story.’
Indeed, even knowing what is to come doesn’t lessen its effects. In fact, when those foreshadowed events are revealed the experience is almost heightened. There is no shock to numb the effect there is only that raw feeling of emotion like a sucker punch to the gut and your whole breath is knocked out of you. This book kept me up late into the night last night because I couldn’t wait another moment to finish it and it made me cry. Not soft tears but real gut-wrenching sobs. I think that the last book that made me cry like that was God-Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo. That is another book that foreshadows events before they happen yet the effect of the events are in no way lessoned by the knowing.
I am truly amazed at the storytelling of The Book Thief. The words are poetry themselves and even when Zusak is talking about the horrors of the death camps the words themselves are still beautiful. I really don’t have the words to adequately describe just how amazing the writing is so I won’t. Just go, pick up the book and find out for yourself.
One last thing….I am holding a contest to send a brand new copy of this book to some lucky reader. For details check out this weeks Sunday Salon post.