Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Flashback: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Books don't have to be new to be deserving of a review! On Fridays I flashback to some of my favorite books of all-time.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The first time Death saw Liesel Meminger, he was taking the soul of her younger brother.  Germany in the late 1930s was a rather busy time for Death, but he couldn't help but be drawn to Liesel; even if he wasn't going to take her just yet.  As he continues to observe Liesel, he watches her, impoverished and illiterate, steal The Gravedigger's Handbook from the cemetery at her brother's burial.  Her family gone, Liesel is taken in by a family living in the outskirts of Munich.  Here Death continues his observations as Liesel continues her thieving, stealing books with the assistance of her friend Rudy.  But it's not all thievery.  With the help of her foster father and a Jewish man that the family are hiding in the basement, Liesel learns to read and express herself through the power of words.  As Nazi rule rages on, she also learns about the depths of human cruelty and the amazing sacrifices and small kindnesses that have the power to change a person's life.

Astounding.  Years after reading this novel I still can't get it out of my head.  The unexpected and ingenious choice of Death - the Grim Reaper - as the narrator of a tale of love and life in the face of hatred and death is masterful.  Zusak's characters are memorable for both the bigness of their hearts and willingness to be a ray of hope to others and also in their flaws.  It is worth every one of its 576 pages.  Never before (or since) have I read a story about the horrors of the Holocaust that so fully captured the fears and struggles of Jews and Germans alike.  Read. This. Book.

Recommended for: Teens and adults alike.  Yes, it's long.  Yes, you'll cry.  Yes, you'll laugh.  Do not delay.
The Book Thief was a 2007 Michael L. Printz Honor book.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It's not just long. It's got a very steep learning curve - to the point where I'd almost recommend skipping the prologue and come back to it when you know more about the book. (I love TBT too. But was put off by the prologue for a long time.)

    I recently booktalked this book to a group of adults, a few of whom had read it, with the intro:

    "There are three things you should know about this book. The first is that it's set in an ordinary town in Nazi Germany. The second is that it's nonlinear. The third - " pause at this point, and, as expected, see people squirming - "those of you who're squirming know what the third thing is, right? And you expected me to say it first? The third thing is - " gesture to someone in the audience to supply "it's narrated by Death."

    I love this document where Zusak talks more about his writing process, especially the decision of Death as the narrator:

    Also, something really interesting came out of my talk, in which I also talked about the Lemony Snicket books. A Series of Unfortunate Events, it turns out, functions as a great introductory text for learning how to read TBT. Both use narrative postmodernism ("This isn't the part where...this is actually the part where..." and "Such-and-such hasn't happened, not yet") and both are about (as Snicket and Nietzsche would put it) struggling to look into the abyss without the abyss also looking into you.

    p.s. earlier comment was mine - blogger won't let me edit it, so I had to repost it entirely.