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Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Book Thief - Makus Zusak

Finally, I'm to the YA books, but interestingly I re-read this book for my grown up book club. and I wasn't even the person to suggest it! Love, love, love this Printz honor book by Markus Zusak, an Australian author. This book, however, is not an easy read. It is very long, over 500 pages, and it is a Holocaust novel, so the themes are challenging. And the narrator of this book is quite unique as well. The story is narrated by Death. This may make it sound even more ominous, but actually the portrayal of death is something we discussed at book club last night, and Death is actually portrayed as a kind, benevolent, and even thoughtful "being", not the Grim Reaper vision we often associate with death.

Liesel Meminger, who is only nine or ten when this book begins, is sent to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann as a foster child in Nazi Germany. She arrives there plagued by nightmares and behind in school, and is soothed and aided every night by the very caring Hans Hubermann. Liesel forms an incredible bond with Hans, and without him, I believe she would not have survived the emotional traumas of her young life. Not only did Hans provide her with shelter and emotional support, but he taught her, slowly, painstakingly, how to read, even though he wasn't the best reader himself. And of course a Book Thief would not have been able to survive without knowing how to read.

This, too, is a story of powerful character development, not only of Liesel and Hans, but of her foster mother, of the crazy mayor's wife, of Max who's a Jew hiding in teh basement of the Hubermann's home, of the boy next door (Rudy), of Death, and again, of many more minor characters in the story. But this story also has very strong writing, including amazing descriptions, and very strong plot development. It is an incredibly well rounded piece of literature which tells a similar story to others that have been written in the Holocaust genre, but in a different and very interesting way. Zusak pulls his readers in and pulls them along, uniquely using foreshadowing and interruptions in the text to increase tension and compel readers to continue the story.

I highly recommend this book to mature readers - YAs AND adults who have an interest in Holocaust literature. It's a fascinating book that will not disappoint.


Emily said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts about this book! I really enjoyed reading The Book Thief. After our discussion last night, I thought more about Death being portrayed as a “him”. Is there anywhere in the book that gives a physical description of this being? It occurred to me that Death is really a male – does he have the same physical characteristics of a human male? If so – his burden would be heavier if he shared any traits with humans (thus causing them to haunt him). It seemed that Death only came to aid in human souls – nothing was mentioned about others (obviously would distract from the story). Thinking of death as a sentient being has taken me all over the place! (I am still working on finishing the book, so please forgive me if I’m missing something that I haven’t read yet!) In addition to these physical characteristics, there are other instances where we apply human thought processes and feelings to animals (i.e. March of the Penguins or Nemo) so I found myself imagining Death having a cup of tea after work… then I remember CeeCee’s comments about the ANGEL – and try to picture a different image.

Anonymous said...

A gem of a book! The author's judicious choice of words, unforgettable images and scenes, the character development, and, yes, the unusual narrator, Death.

All of the characters have a underdog quality that makes you root for every one of them, the damaged mayor's wife included, to survive Nazi Germany and thrive. But my favorite? It's a tough choice between Liesel and the narrator Death. Liesel: her tenacity and kindness, her hunger for books that drives her to steal them, her skill with words and images, her ability to form special relationships, her heartfelt but unspoken love...How sad on the last page to realize we will not learn about all of her life.

The narrator, whom I quickly came to call "The Angel of Death": so human, a victim himself who grieves the loss of the deaths brought on by humans and the Nazis, overworked and misunderstood. He is not the one who brings death but instead is the one who is there at the moment of death to gently cup, lift and transport the soul. An angel indeed.

The importance of words! The author gives us the extra bonus of a reminder of the importance of words. How trite but true: the power of words! They can incite, inform, comfort...and we were privy to all these and more in "The Book Thief".

Truly a great book that stays with you, touches your heart and makes you think. Markus Zusak, thank you so very much.

Comments by CeCe

Anonymous said...

Do you think The Book Thief is appropriate for advanced junior high school kids?

Mrs. F-B's Books Blog said...

To anonymous - I think this book is very appropriate for mature middle schoolers who have some background on the Holocaust. It would also be a great one for a parent and student to read together to discuss. This book has become what's known in publishing as a crossover book - it appeals to YA-adult. There are a lot of nuances younger readers just don't have the life experience to process, so they'll probably miss those. This is one of those books that readers (of any age) will get more out of each time they read it, especially as they get older.

Younger readers, less mature readers, or readers without background in the Holocaust will likely not get much out of this book, or, indeed, even choose to start, let alone finish, it. It's a very thick book!

Best, Erin FB

Anonymous said...

I can see that you have written his years ago, so this is just a shot in the dark. I just read The Book Thief and created a discussion blog post here http://theloyalbookworm.wordpress.com/. If you are up for it, I would love to hear some of your responses to my questions!
Thank you for your insight! I look forward to reading some of your other works!