The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


Book NameThe Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Pages: 550

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Format: Paperback checked out from the local library

Goodreads’ Words: It’s just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids – as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

My Words: I had originally ruled out reading this book because I assumed that since the narrator is the grim reaper itself, this book is bound to be morbid and dark. Also, the subject of holocaust as the backdrop did nothing to encourage me to grab the book. I have to admit that I didn’t think that there would be anything more meaningful to add to all the stories that we have already read about the holocaust, its survivors and Germans who helped Jews survive. We have Anne Frank and Schindler’s list and many more on the subject. But I am not sorry to say that I was proved totally wrong. Zusak found a way to give a fresh approach to a much-told story. He offered a glimpse at the other side of the coin. I loved this book and it is surely on its way to be a classic!

There are many things that save this book from being all-out depressing. It’s never morbid, for a start. A lively humour dances through the pages, and the sheer beauty of the descriptions as well as the richness of the characters’ hearts cannot fail to lift you up. The book is beautifully surreal, with the masterfully written language reflecting the alien, non-understandable, strangely fascinating nature of the narrator – Death. Death is rendered vividly, a lonely, haunted being who has had a lot of time to weirdly contemplate and wonder human nature and understand it. I say ‘strangely fascinating’ because Death babbles about the mix of colors and strange metaphors, dictionary entries and foreshadowing with complete disregard for spoilers!

“Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece 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. I know what happens and so do you. ”

“So many humans. So many colours. They keep triggering inside me. They harass my memory. I see them tall in their heaps, all mounted on top of each other. There is air like plastic, a horizon like setting glue. There are skies manufactured by people, punctured and leaking, and there are soft, coal-coloured clouds, beating, like black hearts. And then. There is death. Making his way through all of it. On the surface: unflappable, unwavering. Below: unnerved, untied, and undone.” (p.331)

I assumed that Death’s voice would be dark and tumultuous, but for the most part, he was a ray of light illuminating earth’s saddest time. Incredibly insightful observations and occasional dry humor are the things that Death brings into this story.

Even death has a heart.

I do not carry a sickle or a scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.
And I don’t have those skull-like
facial features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.

In all honesty, I was still getting over Stalin in Russia. The so-called second revolution – the murder of his own people.
Then came Hitler.

They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new bos who expects the impossible. He
stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.”

I am haunted by humans.

Love, Humanity, and books. This is what the story set against the terrible backdrop of war is about. Liesel is very real, a child living a child’s life in the street, with stolen pleasures, sudden passions and a full heart while around her bombs drop, maimed veterans hang themselves, bereaved parents move like ghosts, Gestapo take children away and the dirty skeletons of Jews are paraded through the town. This book is an ode to those who kept their humanity in the middle of war, who were so human that nothing could ever change that. And Liesel herself, lost and broken,  finds comfort and strength in family, friends, and books. Liesel, who learns more about the cold cruelty of this world than most children should ever know. Liesel, who learns to read from the Gravedigger’s handbook, who rescues the book from fire, who would rather steal books than food, who is not afraid to show kindness in the face of very real threat, who finally gives Rudy that overdue kiss, who fascinates even Death itself.

Also, it’s great to read the diverse aspects of the Holocaust, where Zusak highlights the juxtaposed world of Jews and Germans. There are the ordinary Germans who are as much at risk of losing their lives, of being persecuted, as the Jews themselves. There are Jews who root for/love the Nazi germans who have unwillingly joined the Nazi party. There are other ordinary germans who have lost the will to live like some of the Jews. Zusak paints a beautiful blue sky tinted with a turbulent horizon because even when caught in the middle of destruction, even ending up on different sides of man-created boundaries, people are still human, with the same beating heart, still capable of love. All of them remained human despite the circumstances. That is the beauty of The book thief.

Zusak uses the technique of juxtaposition throughout the book. One that especially stands out for me is the juxtaposition about the positive and negative use/power of words…(beloved words! my gut wrenched when in one instance Liesel starts hating words! 😦 ) He shows Hitler using Words to build his destructive army and on the other side he shows Max and Liesel using words to build stories of hope and love.

Duden dictionary meaning 4
Wort: Word: A meaningful unit of language/ a promise/ a short remark, statement, or conversation.

I have hated the words and
I have loved them,
and I hope I have made them right. p.528

In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer – proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water. p.164

Writing like this is not something just anyone can do: it’s true art. With The Book Thief, Markus Zusak has shown he’s a writer of genius, an artist of words, a poet, a literary marvel. His writing is lyrical, haunting, poetic, profound. Only a writer of Zusak’s talent could make this story work, and coud get away with such a proliferation of adjectives and adverbs, to write in such a way as to revitalise the language and use words to paint emotion and a vivid visual landscape in a way you’d never before encountered. This, really,  is a book about the power of words and language.

The Book Thief is one of those books to be read slowly, with thoughtful patience, in a way that allows you to enjoy every word and revel in the magic every page contains. Even though Death springs spoilers all the way, and you know in advance what is going to happen, and yet you can’t help but feel the excitement building as the story predictably unfolds.

I find that many of the reviewers felt the same way I do about this book and I may even have picked a thought or two but there are those too who didn’t really click with this book. So I have to say this that if you like a fast paced story or if you like happy books that have happy endings then this might not be the book for you. If you like experimental books that portray human nature in ever-changing times of peace and adversity then you may like the book. I found this book to be beautifully poetic, inspiring enough to instill in me that even in difficult times, humanity does exist and we do have a choice. I rate this a 4.5 out of 5.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s