Monday, January 21, 2008
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This book came very highly recommended from many of my fellow bloggers, and I read it for the A to Z Challenge. Right away, I want to say WOW - everyone was right. This is an excellent book. It is definitely a 5 star book in my rating system this year. I said I'd reserve 5 stars for books that blew me away, and this one did it.
For those of you who don't know, this book is set in a small town in Nazi Germany during World War II and tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a German teenage girl, as told by Death. Death is the narrator and a major character in the book. It is also the story of the people who live in her street and in her small town. Yes, it is a Holocaust story but not in the same way as many of the books I've read.
In the past, I've had the good fortune to teach Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank to groups of young people. This book needs to join that literature group for young adults. It is the first book I've read where I truly understood the terrors faced by the German population at the time. I've always thought how could anyone let such horrendous things happen, but Zusak showed me a different view of humanity - the humanity of the average German who truly had no choice.
STRENGTHS OF THE BOOK THIEF: There are so many. First, I think Zusak has created one of the all-time great characters/narrators in Death. I know that sounds funny, but Death, in this story, is human, humane, compassionate, and a bit humorous. At the end of the book, Death says, "I am haunted by humans." In some ways, I think Death is haunted by humanity - both the good and the bad parts. When Death does take children in the story, his compassion and gentleness moved me to tears.
Another strength is how Zusak created the characters of Liesel and her foster father, Hans. The depth of their relationship is clear, but so is their humanity. At one point in the book, they shelter a Jewish man in their basement. I don't want to give away anything in the book, but Death does say that all people die. I was quite taken with Death's descriptions of both Liesel and Han's souls. That also brought me to tears.
Zusak was also able to tie all the pieces together, and the book didn't feel like over 500 pages. Everything happened for a reason which helped move the plot along elsewhere in the book. Each of the book thieving incidents by Liesel were turning points in the plot. I actually reread the first twenty pages of the book after I finished it because Death alludes to a lot of these points right at the start of the story.
WEAKNESSES OF THE BOOK THIEF: My first instinct is to say NONE, but, after a discussion of the book with my husband, I did realize one thing about it. It required that the reader had some basic knowledge of the rise of Hitler in Germany, the horrors of the concentration camps, and the way war was fought in World War II with bombers etc. It didn't even occur to me since I always assume that this is knowledge that all educated people possess. However, my husband reminded me that there are schools were the Holocaust is not discussed and where American and World History courses never get to World War II. I hope teachers find this book and use it to inform students.
Overall, what can I say. WOW and again WOW. I don't keep many books - I pass them along for others to read. This is going to be one of the few that I put my name in because I want my daughter to read it when she's old enough. I've read many blogger's reviews of this one, but please feel free to leave me links to your reviews. I want to reread them now that I've read the book.