The Book Thief

I know, I know. It’s been entirely too long.

School overcame my life. As well as some other things. I didn’t even post a song for November, or a new quote! Don’t worry, I’ll try to make up for it next week when December rolls around. Until then, however, here’s a post about something I’ve been meaning to cover for a long time:

The Book Thief

“It’s 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

I saw the book thief three times.”

And so begins one of my favorite novels.  Markus Zusak’s historical fiction novel The Book Thief is, as described above, a story about a lot of different things that you would not at first think are related.  But probably the most unexpected thing about this book is who Zusak chose as his narrator– Death.

The Book Thief cover

Morbid, I know.  I can see why people might think it strange that I love this book so much, since I myself am not the most morbid of people.  But the thing is, while The Book Thief is told by a morbid narrator, and takes place in a rather morbid setting (World War II Germany is not a cheery place, no matter what side you were on), the novel itself, the actual atmosphere of the entire book, is not inherently morbid.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There are some heartbreaking chapters in that novel; a lot of them, in fact.  But to me, this novel carries a powerful message about selflessness and love.  The characters discover that throughout their many horrid, unbearable trials, they can find peace and joy when they focus on helping others.  In spite of all the terrifying things that they have to experience, they still find a way to keep their character, to remember their humanity and reach out to each other to help each other through.

the_book_thief_by_jaystab-d3bema5The story of the protagonist, Liesel Meminger, is particularly inspiring.  A young German girl who is left with foster parents when her mother (a communist) is taken away, Liesel has to struggle with the challenges of hunger, fear, and (due to her lack of schooling before coming to her new family), illiteracy.  The latter torments her for the first few years in her new home as she tries to understand the world around her, which, especially with Hitler’s rise to power and the growing prominence of Nazi propaganda, seems to revolve around words.  Liesel works hard, studying by painting words on the wall in the basement and reading books– not all of which were obtained legally.

Another very important story in this book is that of Liesel’s unassuming adoptive Papa, Hans Hubermann.  Hans, who fought alongside and befriended a Jewish man during World War I, finds the Nazism in his country difficult to deal with.  The Book Thief follows his struggle between trying to keep his family on the good side of The Party while still being able to live with his conscience… and then Max shows up.

Max Vandenburg, the son of Hans Hubermann’s World War I comrade, seeks shelter from the growing anti-semantic violence at the Hubermann house. He is a fist-fighter, a defier of Death, and, as Liesel soon discovers, a writer of stories. His friendship with the Hubermann family and the lenghths they go to in order to protect him are inspiring.

The fact that these character’s lives are narrated by Death adds a certain rawness to the story. Death tells it like it is, no cutting corners or sugar-coating things. This is one major issue that I have with the movie that recently came out based on this book– it wasn’t real enough. It was a good movie with a great cast, but the story was… lacking. All of the raw emotion had been drained from it. This book makes you hurt for these people, and the movie just didn’t do that.

Anyway, back to the book– Death is the perfect narrator. Throughout the novel, he uses Liesel, Hans, and Max’s lives to demonstrate the best and the worst that he has seen in humanity. The entire time, Death is just trying to understand us– why we treat each other so horribly, and how we can be so loving and forgiving. It’s a beautiful perspective, and I’m infinitely grateful to my 9th grade English teacher who, when I told her I didn’t want to read the book she had assigned me because it was narrated by death, told me that I really needed to give something different a try. 🙂

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So, to prevent myself from spoiling anything in this wonderful novel, I’m going to end this post here. The Book Thief explores the emotions and actions of the German people during World War II, in a way that humanizes and makes relatable horrors and emotions most of us will never experience. If you have any interest in World War II, reading and writing, or just in people in general, I highly recommend this book. If it doesn’t change how you feel about the war, it will change how you understand the actions of people around you.

Sincerely, your book-loving author,
Torrence Nightingale

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