Sunday, April 05, 2009

91 (2009 #16). The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak,
read by Allan Corduner

I REALLY enjoyed this book, more than I thought I would! It takes place in Germany before and during World War II, in the fictional town of Molching, which is apparently supposed to be Olching, a town also on the Amper River, not too far from Dachau (the well-known concentration camp) and Munich. The “book thief” (the title makes more sense as the story progresses) is Liesel Meminger, who is nine years old when the book begins in January 1939, on the way to her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann in Molching.

Markus Zusak did a great job of drawing the reader in by using Death as his narrator. Death is more world-weary than Grim Reaper, and he cares about the characters, the same way I did. I have to admit at first when I realized who the narrator was, I thought it was going to be yet another teen fantasy book. The prologue in particular was a bit puzzling (I had to smile about Death needing a vacation, but his talk about colors was confusing), but the book made more sense after that, and the prologue will become clear when re-read after finishing the book.

I think having Death as the narrator helped to underscore the sheer magnitude of the Holocaust, because Death--who must surely be rather immune to most horrors--was so affected by what was happening in the concentration camps. I also found the image of Death sitting by the chimney of the gas chamber, gently, reverently and lovingly gathering souls into his arms, profoundly moving.

I thought this book did remarkably well in giving a feel for the very real horrors of World War II and the Holocaust without being overly macabre. Zusak used foreshadowing to suck the reader in by having Death nonchalantly mention things that happened later in the story and then going back and narrating everything in chronological order.

Zusak is Australian, but his mother is German and his father is Austrian, and he incorporated stories they told him about their lives during World War II into the book. Interestingly, while the book is often classified as young adult in the United States, Zusak originally wrote it for adults.

The narrator on the audiobook is English character actor Allan Corduner, who is Jewish and whose mother was born in Berlin. He did a fantastic job with the voices! The book included German words and they were always translated the first time they were used. I learned some new German insults! :)

This is the type of book that teaches numerous lessons and I think anyone would enjoy reading it. It was a sad but remarkable story covering a very tragic time in human history; yet Zusak gives us hope for humanity in the compassion, the strength and the dignity some people showed in the face of a world gone mad.

“We have these images of the straight-marching lines of boys and the ‘Heil Hitlers’ and this idea that everyone in Germany was in it together. But there still were rebellious children and people who didn’t follow the rules and people who hid Jews and other people in their houses. So there’s another side to Nazi Germany,” said Zusak in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

I would most definitely read The Book Thief again. This is the type of book you can read and reread and take something new away from it each time. I would recommend this book to adults and teens without hesitation. I am suggesting it for my local book club. It was long (over 500 pages) but the chapters are short and such a quick read, and it was hard to put it down.

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