Re-reading the Book Thief

I have begun an adventure into reading Indie books, downloading, for the most part, onto my Sony reader.  I have been bold and wandered into new genres – new to me anyway:) I will be reporting back when I have a slew of them in my head and some reviews of how I found them.  I believe some I will not be comfortable with but also know that in the past I have been surprised at how much I can get it wrong!  While this process continues I have been re-reading the Book Thief.  I enjoy re-reads, they are relaxing, like having time with old friends, lounging in soft chairs and sharing time.  No anxieties of the new, now trying best behaviours, no expectations to be dashed or otherwise.  I reviewed this when I first read it a few years ago and I find my opinion has not changed much, maybe I enjoyed it more this time around. This book was originally recommended to me by a young friend so it covers recommended and re-read, can’t be bad.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief  is a book in which one makes friends with Death – an extremely likable entity.  Over worked during the period of the book – the 2nd world war – but always caring and gentle especially to children and Jews.  Who views the world and its events in colours.  Death is the narrator, so we come to know him well.

Liesel, the book thief, is the child Death is telling us about.  Liesel, adrift just before the war, is fostered by a gentle accordion player and his formidable wife, befriended by a neighbouring child, aided and abetted by the mayor’s sickly wife.  For a short period we learn how life, for the ordinary German, became as difficult as we know it was for the British,  indeed for ordinary folk everywhere in time of war.  In the paranoia of Nazi Germany it was maybe more difficult for people of conscience to survive.  Liesels foster parents are such, indeed Liesels parents have ‘disappeared’ for holding views not in accordance to those of the Nazi regime.  In a life fraught with increasing poverty and lack of employment, life is made even more perilous by the honouring of a promise made decades before in another great war.

 Zusak plays with images in a wonderful way, Mein Kamp the iconic book of Germany’s brutality becomes a saviour of a Jew on the run, and ‘whitewashed’ with paint, the blank pages become a story of hope written for a child. The snowball fight in the basement another, playful, twist on reality as is the image of the mythical fist fight between Jew and Hitler.

Liesel has a child’s perspectives on the troubles.  She is passionate and loyal and, with all her misdemeanours, one that the reader is rooting for.  Death we know, for he tells us so, will visit her three times.  We are kept guessing as to when her end will come and that of all the other players in the story.  The one thing we do know about Death is that he will come for them, he tells us so many times throughout his narration. Markus Zusak succeeds so well in engaging the reader with the characters   it is heartbreaking when, despite these frequent warnings, those we have learnt to love are truly caught up in the War.

I have read that this book was written with older children in mind, that it has crossed to adults, as some books will.  This would explain, maybe, the innocence of the narration, the bestiality of war is not hammered into one, but it is very apparent.  There are no profound thoughts on the why’s and wherefore’s of war, other authors have done that. It is though, despite that, thought-provoking without leaving the reader crushed.

It is no ‘Babi Yar’ by Anatoli or even ‘Cat and Mouse’ by Grasse, and I suspect never set out to be. What it is, is a story written with enormous skill combining the terrible and the good.  There are barbarous and saintly acts walking hand in hand, there are stories of magic and hope and there is incredibly beauty and heroism.


One thought on “Re-reading the Book Thief

  1. Well said, “thought provoking without leaving the reader crushed.” I liked the book but like some heavy books it feels weird saying enjoyed it alot.


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