Monday, May 27, 2013

Markus Zusak - The Book Thief

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.
Comment:  I was returning a book at the library when I saw this one on display. My local library always has a selection of different genres on display at the entrance and I always look through them in case something catches my eye. It’s much more difficult to find things in the shelves because things are divided by country, so one shelf has English literature, other has French, another has German…not by genre then. Anyway, I saw this one and I curious over it because I remembered something about it but wasn’t sure what was. I looked at the original title and I knew which book this was and I got it to bring home right away.

This is the story of young Liesel and her tribulations during the Second World War in Germany, her country. This story is told from the German point of view and as in everything, just because Germany was thinking about so many awful things, it didn’t mean all its citizens were in agreement and in this story we met several characters that didn’t follow the Nazi’s regulations. Liesel is a young girl starting her career as a book thief. This will lead her through so many things, good and bad, but always with Death telling what is happening.

This book was tremendously emotional. I mean, at first I was holding on pretty well. I was taking all the hints about how things wouldn’t end well with dread but well enough, I thought. Then the end came and I cried and cried and cried…. Of course I knew this was the purpose and the expectation but still it caught me unprepared despite all the clues pointing to it.
Basically, the story follows Liesel life during those years and her dealing with the loss of her brother and mother, then her foster parents, her friends, the woman who lets her read books in her library, the Jewish her parents hide in the basement and in the end, the death of the people she loves. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything, during the book we get to know this, just not how and exactly when. All these thinks are told in a very simple way, almost innocent, while exploring some of the horrors of that time. It still shocks me how, despite knowing the historical facts, how so many people must have suffered one way or another, because of that. And despite knowing I will cry and feel awful for all those people, I still read books with this theme. Some would say I’m a masochist but I just can’t help myself. There’s some strange appeal and beauty in knowing these things, in a way it’s to keep in mind that reality.

Most books would explore the Jewish side and the suffering from that angle, but so many times we don’t think about all those German people who had nothing to do with the Nazi party, who were as horrified and desperate as all the known victims, all the civilians who died and weren’t mean or racists. In a way, this book also shows that and it makes me wonder, everyone suffers a bit, everyone has something in them others don’t know about and we suffer so much quite often…

This book is classified as YA. I didn’t know this before reading but I understand this classification. Still, I’m not sure every teenager would get all the little details of the book, all the small clues about the war and some meanings or even the philosophical reflections one can make while reading. Still, reading is good and I hope it makes them more conscious of the things that shaped our society as it is now.

Like I said, I cried a lot when the book ended. It wasn’t completely bad, it wasn’t a total devastation but it made me think about my loved ones and how hard it must be to just…let go.
I recommend the book, but be prepared to cry and to feel your heart heavy.

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