Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Date Published: December 2007
The Book Thief was my second foray into Young Adult Fiction, my first being The Hunger Games trilogy.
I was on the search for a great book in a genre I hadn’t read for a while. I tried a couple of romance books but quickly abandoned them as they only seemed to be about handsome, wealthy men and down on their luck, beautiful women. Both parties fall in love instantly, but fight their emotions while constantly sparring with each other. Eventually there’s a huge misunderstanding and fall out, but alas, they reconcile and live happily ever after. Mind-numbingly dreadful.
So I decided to go for something completely different and I found myself purchasing The Book Thief.
The Book Thief is set in Germany during the Second World War. The first intriguing aspect about the story is the fact that it is narrated by Death. Initially, this got me worried as I do not like anything remotely scary. However, Death is portrayed as a gentle spirit, merely carrying out his task of taking souls from earth once they die. He keenly observes humans and takes particular interest in a little girl called Liesel Meminger.
Liesel is fostered by the Hubermanns – gentle and loving Hans and foul-mouthed Rosa – whom she calls Papa and Mama. The story begins with Liesel picking up a book at a graveyard on her way to her new foster home. She initially cannot read, but after settling in with the Hubermanns, Papa teaches her to read every night and her love for books begins to grow. This leads to her stealing more books, each theft signifying a turning point both in Liesel’s life and in the unfolding story.
In her new neighbourhood, she befriends a boy called Rudy who has a sweet crush on her. Despite the war around them, they are able to find laughter and form a strong bond. The war does begin to take a toll on Liesel, her home and her friends and the different relationships that are built along the way.
Also unfolding in the book is the relationship between Hans Hubermann and a Jew. This is the most heartfelt arc of the book. The Book Thief reminds you to never generalise about a set of people, as each person is a completely unique individual.
Markus Zusak is a great story teller. He interspersed witty quotes from Death, from a third party observers perspective, through out the prose. This helps the reader take a step back from the main story line and think about what was happening from a broader perspective.
He also has an uncanny ability to build anticipation by weaving words beautifully. The paragraph below struck chords within me;
“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.
She was the book thief without the words.
Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.“
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It didn’t feel like I was reading a story for young adults. It simply felt like I was learning about the Holocaust from a different view point. I would strongly recommend it to both adults and young adults.