Book Review

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

“HERE’S A SMALL FACT
YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION
THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH”

This book almost leaves me almost speechless. I say almost because I have to write a review and therefore I need to find the words.

First and foremost, Marcus Zusak made the brilliant decision for Death to narrate and tell the story of a young girl named Liesel Meminger. After the loss of her parents she is taken to live with foster parents. Upon first meeting them the foster parents seem like polar opposites. However, overtime you grow to love them both (although perhaps the father a little moreso). I also love Zusak’s portrayal of Death.

The author draws you in from the very first page. I genuinely think this may be my new favourite opening to a book. I love the way those first few entries flow, almost lyrically. It isn’t necessarily a conscious thought that you want to keep reading, you just do so without question.

The Book Thief takes place during the events of World War 2. Liesel, who has lost both her parents and her younger brother, settles into her new home on Himmel Street. Whilst there she must face her own fears and deal with the dangers which surround her. For example: her night terrors; Befriending of the Jewish people who Hitler considered ‘the enemy’; the small but terrifying ways in which some stood up against the vile treatment of other human beings, and the consequences of those actions; and of course The Book Thief got herself into some troubles, as only a young girl could.

Every character is so well developed, including side characters. They’re given so much depth and their own storylines which are all interwoven beautifully. It adds so much to the storytelling itself. I think the characters I love the most are Hans, Rudy, Max and Liesel.

I liked that, while the story is told from Deaths point of view, it follows a German girl and her connections with family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances. We get to see so many different points of views on what’s happening Germany and the way people feel about it. Hatred and friendship. Fear and acceptance. There are some who can’t help but help those who don’t deserve the treatment they’re subjected to, there are others who do nothing for fear of endangering themselves or the lives of their loved ones.

The important thing is that it doesn’t take away from what the Jewish, and so many other communities, went through during this time. In fact it highlights it and forces you to watch only half of what they went through. The fact this is narrated by Death means that we are able to view the events from the eyes of a child, with the knowledge of an omniscient being who knows what will happen to them eventually. The narration provides the ability to take you away from the happenings of Himmel Street at times to show you the devastations that Liesel never witnessed.

You feel so much sorrow for those communities who don’t deserve such torment. You feel for the families who battle between what is right and what keeps their families safe. When an event takes place where a character might help or defend them, there’s a hitch in your breath as well as a swell of pride. You come to love most of these characters and, while what they’re doing is right, you feel a sense of dread as to what might happen to them as a result.

The Book Thief was interesting for me because I’d never read a book set during World War 2 from the perspective of a German family. Of many German families, all with their own beliefs and agendas.

I shall warn you now that this book made me tear up a few times, and I don’t normally cry at books. It is not a fast-paced book, instead it builds slowly. You see their lives on a day-to-day level.

The children, we see their school lives, Hitler Youth, their friendships, games of football on the street and sharing all they had between them because that’s all they could afford.

The adults you see how they get by on rations and very little business, how they deal with their own guilt. Plus a fear that they, or worse their children, are called upon and taken away.

It’s a bittersweet and moving story of an impossible situation. It’s something you don’t normally think about when you think of the Second World War, and this does a great job in forcing you to do just that.



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