I am a little fascinated and horrified too by the Nazi Germany related books and movies. To that effect, when the Book Thief was recommended to me for a read, I didn’t hesitate in picking it up. This book is set up in the Nazi war era when Hitler and his forces were hell-bent on flushing out all the jews and exterminating them.
The Book thief talks about the love of books and how the power of words can take us into a world of their own. This quality about book reading is what I set out to portray in this year’s challenge and this book sums it up perfectly!
Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publication: Random House
Markus Zusak is an Australian writer whose award-winning novel The Book Thief has been translated into over 40 languages. Its been one of the top-selling book everywhere and has been on top of the lists for many many years.
The backdrop of this story is the Nazi Germany when Hitler is gaining popularity and our narrator of the tale is Death himself. 9-year-old Liesel Meminger is sent off to live with Hans and Rosa Huberman when her mother is suspected of anti-Hitler practices. While Hans is a gentle soul who is absolutely bewitched with the little girl, Rosa is a gruff woman with a fly at handle temper. She instructs Liesel about decorum and work to be done around the house.
Liesel spends a miserable few nights in the house till she lets Hans win her confidence with his story telling and playing the accordion. As she steps out to go to school, she meet Rudy Steiner who is her next door neighbour. He takes an instant shine to her and is a constant companion to her since.
“He was waving. “Saukerl,” she laughed, and as she held up her hand, she knew completely that he was simultaneously calling her a Saumensch. I think that’s as close to love as eleven-year-olds can get.” ― Markus Zusak,
Liesel can’t read or write and has a terrible time in school. Seeing her quandary Hans takes to teaching her how to read ever night and so develops a love of words and books in little Liesel.
While Hans works as a painter-handyman, Rosa does laundry in the house and teaches Liesel to help her in delivering and collecting the stuff. Life takes a sharp turn when one evening a book burning bonfire is celebrated on the corner of the street where everyone is made to participate. Liesel is horrified to see precious books being burnt and when everyone leave, she sneaks a partially burnt book under her coat. The mayor’s wife sees her do so but keeps quiet about it.
When Liesel turns up to deliver washing to her home, she invites her inside and takes her into the library. Liesel is mesmerised by the sight of so many books which she learns belonged to the lady’s dead son. She allows Liesel to read there everyday, but in secret.
“The words were on their way, and when they arrived, she would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.”
― Markus Zusak,
Their world is heaved up even more when Max turns up to hide in their house. Max’s father had saved Hans life some time back and Hans had promised to repay it with his life, if need be. But Max is a Jew and if the Nazi army catches a whiff of him, they wouldn’t hesitate to kill all of them.
Liesel is sworn to secrecy while Max is hidden in the basement where he falls ill. All during his recuperation, Max and Liesel became firm friends. Max is delighted to note Liesel’s interest in books and encourages her to read and write by inventing word games with her. In turn Liesel tries to bring images of the outside world inside the dark basement to liven up Max’s tenure in their house.
“The sky is blue today, Max, and there is a big long cloud, and it’s stretched out, like a rope. At the end of it, the sun is
like a yellow hole. . .”
― Markus Zusak,
For her birthday, Max paints and designs a new book for her out of the hallowed Mein Kampf in which he tells his life’s tale and of how he came to meet Liesel. Meantime, Rosa loses her laundry job and money becomes tight in the house. Rudy and Leisel join a gang of children who steal apples and potatoes from farm lands. During one such raid, Rudy dares Liesel who then sneaks into the mayor’s house and steals a book.
Soon air raids start and everyone takes to getting down in the bomb shelters. In the dark, Liesel takes to reading one of her books which ends up soothing and calming all those around her. She realises the power of words and takes to writing a journal which is presented to her by the Mayor’s wife one day.
“She didn’t dare to look up, but she could feel their frightened eyes hanging onto her as she hauled the words in and breathed them out. A voice played the notes inside her. This, it said, is your accordion.”
― Markus Zusak,
Hans sends away Max when the Gestapo patrolling becomes intensive. Soon he and Rudy’s father are sent away to be drafted in the army. Hans returns after an accident but one night while everyone is asleep bombs are dropped on this street, killing everyone. Liesel had been up all night working on her journal in the basement and so is saved. She is devastated to see her world turned upside down yet once again.
She longs to meet Max and starts penning down a book on her life in her journal. This book falls in the hands of death and that’s how he knows the story of the little Book Thief.
Lasting Impression on me:
I saved the best for last; I know I say this for every book I have reviewed in this series. But the Book thief made me cry buckets over the plight of little Liesel. Markus Zusak has written an unbelievable tale in the backdrop of Nazi Germany. So much hate and annihilation in the world, yet there is a bright little spark in the hearts of people like Liesel, Hans, Rudy and Max – all of who stole my heart with their words.
The world as opened up by a love for reading for Liesel is something I could connect so instantaneously. She is enthralled by them and then uses them to bring the outside world for Max to see/hear in her words.
The sweet innocent relationship between Rudy and Liesel is again something that will tear you up for sure. Oh how I wish she had kissed the boy with hair the colour of lemons, just once!
“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”
― Markus Zusak,
Then there is the Mayor’s wife who despite being a German, falls in love with Liesel and encourages her love for reading to assuage her grief over losing her only son.
Hans Huberman is a generous and brave man with so much love in his heart for the motherless girl that one wants to go and give him a big big hug.
The tension gripped days of Nazi Germany come out so vividly in this book and I too was angered beyond words over the book burning bonfires. What a horrific thing to do but then everything about Nazis was terrible and dark.
When Liesel takes to reading a book to calm the frightened people in the bomb shelter, it shows the power of words and how they can lull you in a world of their own.
Best part about the book for me it the narrator – Death! This is something so unusual and the way he talks about people dying is so natural and reasonable that hearing the tale through his words was an experience I can’t forget. I will give the author 10/10 for such a novel narrator.
”It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms…I will carry you gently away.”― Markus Zusak,
And then there is the overall writing, it’s just mesmerizing the way the words flow in this narrative. While Death is funny/sarcastic in his quotes, Liesel is all innocence and curiosity in her questions. The relationships between the characters have been painted warm sunny colours that glow with love.
A top-notch book reading for YA and adults in my opinion and yes it will be a 5***** for this one too. Read this book for the haunting writing style of Markus Zusak. There is also a very well made movie on this book which I keep watching again and again for both the child actors are simply superb in it.
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Have you a book to recommend to me which has a story with the Nazi Germany as a backdrop?
I am on a no-book-buying pact as I am pretty much broke; not to mention that I am running out of space as well!! But incase anyone wants to trade their books or send me gifts, please do check out my Wishlist on Amazon & Want to read on Goodreads.
This brings us to the end of #AtoZchallenge 2018; look forward to the summing up post
For the uninitiated, AtoZ challenge is a blogging challenge wherein one has to write on every alphabet from A to Z and post on all days of April, except Sundays. Usually its better to devise a theme as it makes it easy to write the posts. Plus readers have a reason to stay hooked too.
The A to Z Challenge is created by Arlee Bird of Tossing it Out
and co-hosted by
Alex J. Cavanaugh of Alex J. Cavanaugh
Jeremy Hawkins of Hollywood Nuts
John Holton of The Sound of One Hand Typing
J Lenni Dorner of Blog of J. Lenni Dorner
- Some of my previous posts you might be interested in catching up on