It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind 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 accordian-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.
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
The Book Thief is different from other books in one special regards, we have death as the narrator. Unlike what we really think of death as a grim reaper, we have death with different set of emotions as well. We see how war takes a toll on death and how he moves from one place to another taking souls- sometimes small, sometimes old. And during his journey to pick souls, a young girl grabs his attention. Liesel or as death calls her, The Book Thief.
When all the books around were burned on Hitler’s order, all Liesel could think about was the loss of books and forgetting everything, she picks up a book and takes it with her. Her love for books, despite everything going around is what keeps on going. Everything was going the same, until a Jew finds his way to their basement and Liesel finds herself in company of a hiding Jew.
The streets are full of violence, the camps are increasing, there are constant wars, the sky is full of smoke. And we start understanding how all this affects their life. How suddenly, those small joys from life are taken away and the burden of wars falls on everyone.
“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”
The book thief is honestly different. When I read it for the first time, I couldn’t read it. I just couldn’t but than after some days, probably weeks, I picked it up again and I was in tears. This book is beautiful. And what makes it so impactful is that…years ago, this was reality. When I read about History, it breaks my heart because it makes me realise how small small things that we take for granted was a luxury years ago. The Book Thief made me realise it yet again.
I have always been curious about the concept of death and finding death as a narrator was altogether a different experience. While I loved it, the writing was different and it took me a small time to get used to it. It was refreshing to see death as something more than just a grim reaper ready to take your loved ones away.
We witness Liesel’s journey during one of the dark eras in human history. While, we generally read about Jews during Hitler’s rule, here, we are witnessing the other side. Liesel’s life is better to an extent. Despite, everything she manages to live in a proper house with loving parents and gets an opportunity to study. And that is saying something. But that doesn’t mean she has it all good. She has lost enough people in her life and is constantly struggling with those effects. Reading this book is an eye-opener. It makes you realise how many Germans actually knew what was going. The picture book that Max wrote somehow becomes so true. It starts with small small restrictions and than suddenly you realise everything is restricted.
I really really enjoyed Liesel’s moments with Max. Their reluctant friendship to kinship, this was something I was looking forward to. Max was my favorite character in this series. His struggle, his will- everything was so real that it broke my heart.
“A human doesn’t have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing that I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.”
Just read those lines. How haunting and beautiful they are.
Now, coming to the parts that didn’t work for me. The Book Thief, I think is an amazing book because of the story, emotions, death as a narrator and unique writing style. But…I didn’t quiet like Liesel. I don’t know what exactly it is, but I didn’t find her too interesting? Don’t get me wrong she goes through a lot, struggles a lot but something is missing.
Also, despite the fact that the writing is beautiful, there were instance where I was just lost? I mean I had to go back and read again and again to know what was happening or just read to make a gist of what was happening? It didn’t happen often but it did happen.
But did this things stop me from enjoying the book or crying? No.
The book thief is an amazing book that everyone needs to read once, not only know the effects of Hitler Era but also to realise how far can war affect and witness a new side to Death.
“Even death has a heart.”
This lines from the book are just…
“She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Leisel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers…She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on…”
For me the best part in the book was the Jew Parade. There was so much wrong with it and yet it was hauntingly beautiful. How scarps of food made difference. And the moment when Liesel sees Max among them. That scene will be sticking with me for a long time.
It surprises me how much inhuman acts are we humans capable of.
NOTE: This review was written more than 2 years ago. My writing style for reviews have changed a lot since then. But I still agree with the views. I still think Jew Parade was something brilliant. And there are days when I suddenly think about this book and I am in tears.
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One thought on “The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — Book Review & Summary”
Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be interesting to read articles from other authors and use a little something from their sites.