Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Book Thief

The Book Thief 

By: Markus Zusak 
Published:  2005 

You are going to die."
When I first started reading this book I was not excited.  It might have something to do with the fact that the previous quote was on the first page.  I also thought it was very confusing and quickly realized it was not going to be a quick read.  I had to slow down and really focus while I was reading because it does not read like a regular story that is mostly due to the narrator telling the story, which is Death himself, and the sophisticated writing.  

After reading with a new found focus I quickly started to love the book and could not wait to read it.  I found myself immersed in the story and feeling for all the characters so much I would sit on the edge of my seat reading some of the pages.  I was worried for them, wanted them to make good choices, thought many times this is it they are in trouble, or will they live.  But I also was happy when they stood up for themselves, shared joyful moments, and found their words.  

So with all that being said you might be thinking who are these characters and what happened to them.  Death tells us a story about a little girl and her arrival on Himmel Street to her foster parents during WWII.  Himmel Street is in Molching, Germany and the girl is Liesel Meminger and this is the story of her and how she found her voice.  She is a book thief and a lonely girl, whose brother died on the train ride to Himmel Street and whose mother left her on the door step of Hans and Rosa Hubermann.  

Hans and Rosa are both great characters in their own they care for Liesel and become her mama and papa.  They help her grow as a person and as a reader. At first meeting of Rosa I thought she was so mean and I couldn't understand why she took in Liesel if she was going to be cruel and not love her but as the story unfolds you really see Rosa.  She cares and loves for Liesel just as any mama would she just is like an onion and you have to peel back her layers.  Liesel reads with her Papa at night and he is the one that teaches her to read and to love words.  As her interest grows her hands get twitchy for more books and she starts to find them in the most unsuspecting places, one being the Mayors house, but also some that Hans trades his cigarette ration for.  You can see that he wants the best for her and loves her dearly as he stays up with her every night to help comfort her from her bad dreams.  Liesel also creates great friendships with Rudy,  the boy next door and they grow to love each other but never get the chance to tell  each other.  

So you might be thinking is this book just about Liesel or is there some history actually entwined in the story. Not only does Zusak show us about a girl and her life but also about the struggle that the German people had during WWII.  Liesel and the Hubermanns struggle for money, work, food, and freedom themselves.  I have never read a story about WWII that showed me this perspective and just how not all of Hitler's people wanted to join the Nazi party and had the same feelings as he did.  But if they don't, they will suffer and be treated badly just as Hans was when he showed compassion for the Jewish people on one of their parades through Molching.  Hans Hubermann had compassion for people no matter what their background was and his kindness shows through when he puts his family in jeopardy to hide a Jewish man, Max.  Max shows up at their doorstep.

Max Vandenburg becomes part of the family and hides in the basement.  He also takes to words as Liesel does and even writes his own book for Liesel showing her just how important words are and how strong hers could be.  When Max has to leave he finally gets caught by the Nazi soldiers and it is not until Liesel spots him in one of the parades that we see him again.

Liesel runs to him and she says "there was once a strange, small man."   But there was a word shaker too."  They shared a moment until they were both whipped and Rudy finally pulls her away.  We see just how much compassion and how brave Liesel is and also get a glimpse of Hans Hubermann in her that she will take with her the rest of her life.

As the war dredges on we see the devastation and death tells us just how tired he is and how he worked nonstop for two years.  When the bombing started I couldn't help but tense up wondering what was going to happen to Liesel and her family and although you have a feeling something bad is going to happen to never expect Himmel street to be demolished and  the only person left was the girl who arrived on Himmel Street only a few years before.  Saved by her love for words and by writing her book, the book that death takes as she is wondering around the rubble of Himmel Street telling her goodbyes to those she loved.  I cried for Liesel and the people she cared about I cried for everything I cried for the devastation that is War.

The Epilogue is the last ten pages of the book and ties the whole story together and tells us what happens to Liesel and that she dies an old lady in Sydney with her awful memories of Himmel Street but also of memories of her husband, three children, and her grandchildren.  "Like her papa, her soul was sitting up."  

After I finished reading the story I just sat and reflected for a minute.  There were so many important characters.  There are too many too tell their whole story but I can tell you I think the characters and all their sorrows and triumphs make this story, not just "The Book Thief."  I don't think I even gave you a glimpse of half of them but trust me they all have ties to Liesel and this is all of their stories.  I believe this among other reasons is why Death tells us this story. He helps us to see the big picture and although Liesel is the main character we don't want to see the story from just her perspective we want to see the overhead picture of all their lives.  It also foreshadows what happens to all of those in the book and to those in WWII.

I think this is a great book to show how important words are in the world.  In this time children do not think about consequences of things such as words but we can see that they are powerful and can move people to do even the awfullest of things such as what Hitler did with the German people.  We also see how they can empower people even such as a little girl like Liesel Meminger.  

I will leave you with this quote from the book that I think sums it up and that I love...

"When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words
 started to mean not just something, but everything." 

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