Book Review: The Book Thief

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Liesel would sit each day with her hands between her knees, in the long legs of daylight. She wanted none of those days to end, and it was always with disappointment that she watched the darkness stride forward.”

That’s my favorite line from the novel and the summary of how I think of it as a whole. It took me a year and a half to finish this book by Markus Zusak and I have to say, it is the perfect day to read the last hundred pages of The Book Thief. The gloomy weather and the raindrops made the experience as dramatic as how the narrator, Death, usually tells the story of Liesel Meminger.

World-War II will always be associated with death and depression, and I would like to point out that these two are evident in the several chapters of the book. The feel of the novel has dark undertones and it helped the story build a serious image of how the war affected the setting of the story, Germany, back in the 1940s. It might seem painful to look at, but after reading it, the story of Liesel Meminger and the people she came to love will come afloat amidst the tragedies that struck the pages of The Book Thief. It is heartbreaking and at the same time, wonderful. Just like how it is in real life.

 People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.”

The story is told through the eyes of a nameless entity that collect souls from the grounds of Nazi-Germany. It is safe to say that readers would call him by the name of Death.  He is, by the way, not how you expect him to be. He is not scary and doesn’t have an underworld vocabulary.  In fact, it always amazes me whenever Death describes in his own peculiar terms the feelings and the ambience of the scenes from the book.

The story starts with the central character, Liesel, losing her younger brother and being abandoned by her mother. Liesel accomplishes her first act of book thievery in the burial of his brother. A Gravedigger’s Handbook. She will steal more than a dozen books along the story. She will love the words and she will hate them. Later on, she will be writing her own book and Death will be the one to keep it.

She is adopted by a poor couple from Himmel Street, Hans and Rosa Hubberman.  Rosa is a grumpy woman who likes to curse at people and Hans is this laid-back loving father who plays the accordion. They are an odd couple. They will love Liesel like she’s their own and she will love them as if she never have anything to love in the world.

Oh, wait. There’s Rudy Steiner. Her best friend, her thieving buddy, and her first romantic love.  Sadly for Liesel, she never had the chance to confess her feelings to Rudy, alive. Don’t hate me. I get it, that’s how I felt when Death spoiled that fact in the middle of the story and the page is not even close to killing off Rudy. Yes, Death is an asshole.

One of the major conflicts of the story is when the Hubberman’s tried to hide a Jew, Max Vanderburg, in their basement. He becomes Liesel’s friend and she reads to him the book she’s stolen. Of course, the biggest conflict here is the war and how the power of words brought evil to Germany, and to the world.

On the other hand, the beauty of words is the reason why Liesel has overcome the bad experiences she’s been through. Words kept her away from nightmares by Hans’ basic reading lectures in the night. It is in her obsession with reading that she and Rudy had the best childhood memories by stealing books from the mayor’s library, and it is in her night-time writing sessions that she survived the bombs that killed the people on Himmel Street.

The Book Thief ends in tears. Overall, I look at it as a sad tale of a young girl trapped in the clutches of war. Even as I scan the pages at this moment, my heart still aches whenever I recall the tragedy that no child has to go through. This book, though fiction is a manifestation of the pointlessness of a war. It shows how places and people can change and become ugly scars of history. It speaks sorrow and misery without bringing atonement and real logic when all is just a mountain range of rubble.

If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter and bread with only the scent of jam spread out on top of it. It was the best time of her life.”

On the bright side, The Book Thief is also a story of everyone’s childhood. I think it was a happy memory for a lot us. Liesel had a good one. She played soccer. She stole food and books. She was teased by the boy she loved and she is spanked by her mother. I could feel that care-free joy whenever the narrator gets to those pages. It is a real pleasure reading it and I love it when I try to relate my own experiences that I had fun reminiscing.

I will be thrilled to see it in the future as a major motion picture, but it is frightening at the same time because as we all know, you never know if people in the film industry will hit or miss. A scriptwriter and a director like Stanley Kubrick could translate it into an epic cinematic experience.  I just hope that there is someone alive who can match his skills or can at least come close to what he can do. 

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.”

Markus Zusak has crafted a great book. I don’t usually use ‘great’ for description but The Book Thief fits the mold perfectly. The power of realism in its pages made the reading experience more heartfelt and I could assure you that it will make you giggle in amusement and bawl in tears. I could go on and on, but I don’t want to spoil it (assuming that I still haven’t done enough spoiling) for those who haven’t read this novel.  Buy it and have a meaningful reading.

 


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