Monday, September 3, 2012

The Book Thief: A Book Review

There are NO SPOILERS in this review. Enjoy. (:

"It was a nation of farmed thoughts." - Max Vandenburg

Today's book review is for a book I've been anxious to read for quite some time, Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. This book had me by the title, and within the first few chapters I knew it would be a book that I would love.

(photographed: Markus Zusak's The Book Thief)

The back cover description of The Book Thief reads:

"It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath.
Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of those most enduring stories of our time."

My thoughts on finishing the book:

When I read the title, I initially thought this book was going to be about a rebellious individual who takes to book thievery due to the personal significance of the books. Like an updated version of Fahrenheit 451. And while Liesel does have this spark of German rebellion, alongside her love for words, I knew within the first few chapters of the novel that it was going to be different than I anticipated. Much different than Fahrenheit 451. In the case of The Book Thief, it was the good kind of different.  I finished the book feeling what one may feel when reading anything about Nazi Germany or any other kind of genocide, somewhat hopeless that history has already written the large number of those deceased by the hands of racism, but hopeful that pure knowledge is increasing awareness.

The book moves at a decent pace. It is neither slow nor action-packed, but is rather filled with a myriad of significant events in the life of Liesel and those around her. I hope that makes sense. I guess I'm just trying to say that the story doesn't follow the typical arc in which there is one climactic event that leads into a resolution. There was not one page in the 550 of The Book Thief that I found boring.

Liesel, and one of my favorite character, Max, (the other favorite character would be Rudy) made me appreciate the value of the word, whether written, spoken or simply thought. It's a powerful tool that can be used to turn fear and racism into a tool for destruction, so why not the exact opposite?

The entire novel is told from the point of view of Death, and as such gives an interesting omniscient point of view. It's almost funny to hear the the word omniscient used in this case, as omnipotent is often used to represent an all-knowing God-like presence. And yet, here we are dealing with the all-knowing presence of Death. Either way, I enjoyed this choice. Yes, occasionally Death, rather than letting the story play out, will spoil things for you as the reader, making you want to scream "why would you tell me [insert character name] dies like [insert method of passing]??!" despite the fact that you know it's Death. What else does he/she have to talk about?

Overlooking those few frustrations, I enjoyed Death's narrations. Even though he/she would inevitably talk about those deceased, I ironically felt very hopeful and warmed by the story of Liesel and her foster parents, and their hidden Jew. I cherish this book, and would recommend it to anyone. And if nothing else, you'll learn a few German words. (:

"I'm always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die."

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