Novel, Random House, 2007
554 pages, English
This seem-to-be-a-children-book moved me quite much. With setting around the world war II in Germany, this book tells a story about some people in Germany in their daily lives facing the war. There are germans and jews, and young soldiers that join Nazi. But unlike most books about the second world war and in Germany in particular, the story is not told from a point of view of a jew, as wellknown victims, but from that of a young german girl. How life is observed by her child eyes and how war can powerfully ruin everybody’s life, the jews as well as the germans. Everybody’s.
One thing that makes this book uncommon and intriguing is the fact that the story is narrated by someone, or perhaps, something, called Death. How intelligent Zusak is in finding a way to convey his story. Death, as someone who is always hovering around and above, tells stories of those whose lives he is about to take, or whose lives that are in many times so near with him.
The book thief. It is a small story about books, about the power of words, and of course, about some acts of thievery. The main character is the little german girl called Liesel Meminger, whose mother because of the war and the severe condition she was in, was forced to let her daughter and her son to be adopted by an old couple, Hans and Rosa Hubermann in Himmel street, Molching. On their way to Molching, Liesel’s brother could not make it; he passed away just lying on the train floor. This vision of his brother passing away was always in Liesel’s mind and haunted her in a form of nightmare till months after.
That was Hans Hubermann, or papa, who always came down to Liesel’s room and soothed her after the nightmare. And that was papa also who taught her reading and built in her a huge love of words. A love that was huge enough to move her to several acts of thievery, a book at once, to read in her bedroom, to kill the passing difficult times, to transfer her into another world. Those were words and books that eventually soothed Liesel in her toughest times during the war. Words and books also created a deep bond between her and her papa, and between her and a young jew that that they hid in their basement. The bond between Liesel and Max, the jew, was touching, and it moved me quite much when I read the sketches Max made for Liesel. The story about Max is also quite moving; it is about having turn in helpng others and about keeping promises.
As for mama, Rosa Hubermann, she was quite difficult to be with, at least it seemed. Always calling Saumensch (sau means pig) to Liesel and Saukerl to her husband, she threw her orders and told everyone what to do. Though complaining much, she did whatever to be done during the tough times then, making soup and running the home and the economy. At the end we know that actually she was a lovely woman, she was just being protective and she cared much for her family, Liesel and her neighbours. How different the inner from the outer beings.
As a normal child at her age (9 years old), Liesel went to school and was being friend with the others. The one that was very near was Rudy, with whom she did the adventures of thievery. “In years to come, he (Rudy) would be a giver of bread, not a stealer — proof again of the contradictory human being.” (page 171). Rudy and Liesel grew together, with times of battling and helping each others. But the fates of their lives were quite different.
The Death, narrated the story from his hovering view. Sometimes he said a kind of bitter humour, about his job (taking lives of human beings) or about human souls. But each act that he made, the death, was done with care, whether it was the soft soul of the children and the hard soul of the angry soldiers.
Zusak wrote The Book Thief in ten parts, each consists of several short chapters. Each chapter contains a part of a kind of lines of words, like a poem, making this reading unique and rather poetic, though not lyrical. If you look for a common linear plot here, you’ll not find it. It is more like a pile of photographic events, sometimes, yes, quite linear, but not always, from the hovering view of Death. In some places Death gives us a spoiler, a glimpse about the end, but even so, it does not ruin the curiosity and the emotions in finding out how the story strolls next.
Zusak himself is a son of german parents. He now lives in Australia. Some visions about daily lives during the war time he got from his mother, who told him two stories that affected him quite much; one was about Munich being bombed, when the sky was all red, and another was about the jews being in a parade. Pretty much I found those visions in this book.
Another book that reminds us about humanity, in its purest meaning. This time from the eyes of a child.
Mei, Pau France, 12 May 2008