Monday, November 12, 2007

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I have been reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and have finally finished. Although I have friends who'd read it in a single sitting, it took me several weeks. The story is a compelling one but I found it difficult to read more than a few pages at time. The Book Thief is so rich in details that readers will find themselves drawn into Liesel Meminger's life as I did. It is such a difficult life that I simply could not bear to read it all at once. Life's brutality is introduced from the very start, when in 1939, Liesel, her mother, and her younger brother are traveling by train to Munich where Leisel and her brother are to be given into foster care. Liesel is the first to discover her brother's death on route. She and her mother are put off the train at the next stop with the dead child. A sad funeral in frigid temperatures with virtually no one in attendance is all that can be managed. Upon leaving, Liesel who cannot read as she hasn't had the opportunity to attend school with any regularity, picks up a book dropped by the gravedigger. This becomes one her greatest treasures, even though it is only a gravedigger's manual. There is a witness to Liesel's thievery, albeit an unobserved one; death himself. Thus begins Liesel's book thievery, and Death's narration of her life story. Death is very formal narrator and he is as governed by courtesy and decorum as he is by his role of collecting the souls of each deceased the moment of their demise. He is always on hand to gently and respectfully transporting each soul to eternity. Given the state of affairs in Germany at the time, Death is a constant presence.

I say that it took me some time to finish The Book Thief, but I must tell you that it was Zusak's brilliance which put me off. He is far too good a writer, skillfully bringing to life the harsh details of a daily existence that goes from gut-wrenching to heart-breaking and then back again. Blow after blow is dealt to this most resilient of children who loses her brother and then her mother almost immediately after. Once her brother is buried, that interrupted train trip is resumed, and Liesel is given into foster care. She is luckier than some though, since the Hubermanns take her in. Her foster father's gentleness acts as a counter balance to his wife Rosa's bad cooking and worse temper. Hans can't, however, temper the perilous times they live in; times when books are burned, brownshirts are given license to harass Jews, and party politics leaves the Hans Hubermann without work and the means to support his family. It is a time when bombs destroy neighborhoods and snatch all that is dear; Liesel's home, her foster parents and her friend Rudy Steiner.

Although Liesel lives a long life, it is death who has the last word.
"I am haunted by humans" Death writes. By the time you close the cover of The Book Thief, you too will be haunted; by Zusak's characters.

1 comment:

Literary Skier said...

I have read this book also, and found it one of the most compelling books I have read yet. The graphic ways Zusak portrays the characters and harsh times of the Holocaust is gripping. I have read many books on the Holocaust, and one of the most memorable characteristic of this book was that instead of the usual story, being told by the point of a Jewish prisoner escaping the Nazi's, it is told in the point of view of Death and the story of an 'ordinary' German girl. The Hubermanns' selfless acts in the story leave you wanting more, and respecting the amazing strength it took to save one of the millions of souls lost in that time period.