Thursday, February 26, 2009
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 the most enduring stories of our time.
"BRILLIANT and hugely ambitious...It's the kind of book that can be LIFE CHANGING."--The New York Times
"Deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank...Poised to become a classic."--USA Today
"Zusak doesn't sugarcoat anything, but he makes his ostensibly gloomy subject bearable the same way Kurt Vonnegut did in Slaughterhouse Five: with grim, darkly consoling humor."--Time
"Absorbing and searing."--The Washington Post
I agree with the above reviews, a memorable and moving read, it made me cry. The story of a young girl struggling through life in Nazi Germany and finding books as a balm for life's adversities.
This is the story of young Liesel and her life in Molching during WWII as narrated by "death." Death is an actual character, telling Liesel's story. Sometimes Death gives you some hints of what will happen later in the story, which also helps to soften the blow of what you know will eventually happen. It's interesting how Death is, describing taking souls from dead bodies and how it's sometimes in awe of humans and how they handle things when coming face to face with him. It's an odd way of having a narrator, yet it works, and is quite brilliant, really. I sort of liked Death.
The book flows quickly, yet it's not a quick read. It's best to set aside some time to read this book, and let it envelope you. The subject matter is much too serious to just blithely read in a day or two, although it's not depressing to read about. It's a real eye opener of what it must have been like to live in Nazi Germany before and during the war. As sad and awful as it was to read in some parts, I enjoyed it very much. I've never read a book of WWII that takes place in Germany, living there during the war, and the rise of Hitler and what it means to be either "in the party" or not.
Liesel lives with a foster family on Himmel Street. Hans (Papa) and Rosa Hubermann take her in. Her parents are not members of Hitler's party, and because of that, they must keep a low profile and do the usual heil Hitler everywhere to keep the authorities away. One false move can mean the end of everything for them. Life on Himmel Street is poor and dingy. No luxuries, one is lucky to have a roof and soup for dinner. Papa comforts Liesel when she first arrives at their house, scared and lonely, suffering from nightmares every night. He teaches her how to read, which becomes her solace and passion. He plays the accordian and is a kind, quiet and gentle man with a concience. He is a beloved and endearing character. One day a young Jew, Max, shows up at their door. It turns out his father, long ago, had saved Hans' life in WWI. They take him in and protect him and Max lives hidden in their basement for two years. A strong friendship grows between Liesel and Max. They all sympathize with him and love him, yet he is such a danger to them if they are caught. Some of the most moving parts of the book involve Max and what he must endure, and how Liesel's family must quietly protect him and remain silent in the face of the atrocities they know exist for Jews, for fear they will be taken away as well.
Books, as you can imagine, play a large part in this story. Any book lover can relate to Liesel. Liesel, being so poor, rarely has the chance to get a book. Throughout the story, we see how precious books are and how they can soothe her and other various people in the story. Liesel reads to her neighbors as a distraction in the bomb shelter and she reads to her neighbor who has just lost her son in the war. Life is such a struggle for everyone, often books can help ease it a little bit, I know I can certainly relate to that from personal experience. By chance, she winds up stealing books, not out of malice, really, but she just wants one or it just happens to be lying around somewhere and she quickly takes it.
In addition to Liesel's life with her books and how they affect her, we also meet her various friends and people in the story, especially Rudy. Rudy with the bright lemon colored hair, who worships Jesse Owens and always asks Liesel for a kiss - though she never gives him one. It becomes a game with them. When she finally does kiss him, it was probably the saddest and most heart wrenching part of the book for me to read. All the characters are interesting and have their own struggle in life, it really makes you appreciate what we have now when reading about how these ordinary people had to cope in Germany during this time, and how dangerous and secretive and scary it was.
The Book Thief is considered Young Adult, but I wouldn't go by that at all, some scenes are not for the faint of heart. As I said before, it made me cry and it really made me think about how hard it must have been for anyone to actually stand against Hitler and his machine in Germany. Almost certain death. A memorable and emotional tale, I highly recommend it.
P.S. This is my 100th post!