The Book Thief
By: Markus Zusak
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist-books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
I've said this before at the start reviews, but I'm going to say it again. There is no way I could ever summon the words to tell you just how beautiful and touching and masterful this book is. That's means you have no choice but to read it yourself, right? right? Yeah, don't question me on this. Just do it.
I don't even think I can organize my thoughts on this in a cohesive manner so I'm probably just going to ramble and rave for a bit and you're going to pretend it makes sense. Deal?
So this book. This book is a World War II story, but not the way it's usually told. It's told from Death's perspective with the main characters being Germans. The cast of characters are genuine and flawed and human. They're not the Germans from WWII that we're used to hearing about. It's a story of genuine people who just happened to be Germans during The War. About Germans who welcomed a practically orphaned girl into their family, Germans who hid a Jew in their basement, Germans who worried about feeding their kids, Germans who lost sons to the war too. It's about German kids who grew up and played soccer and threw snowballs. German kids who were hungry enough to steal and yet raised kind enough to give. It gives faces to what is so often left faceless. Because it's easier to think of them all as enemies, as evil. The truth is much more complex. It's harder to accept. That maybe, just maybe the people doing the terrible, horrible, inhumane things were, in fact, humans just like us. Maybe the every day German citizens were just trying to survive the war like we were. And even more unusual is how it points out that the Allies left casualties, too. They decimated Himmel street and while it may have necessary, it wasn't glorious or triumphant. It was messy and tragic and dirty.
And it accomplishes all of that without negating or minimizing the horror that Germany inflicted on the world and, more specifically, the Jews. It asks questions like, how do good men survive in a country doing so much evil?
The other main point revolves around the power of words. It's addressed again and again that words change people, sway people, rally people. For better or for worse. Max and Liesel used them to build a friendship even while the Fuhrer used them to build armies and concentration camps. One of the most beautiful things in this book was Max's books for Liesel. The Standover Man and The Word Shaker were just gorgeous.
The friendships and families in this book are just as beautiful as the rest of it. Hans and Rosa and Max and Rudy and Ilsa stepped right up and took their places in my heart. I loved most of all that these parts were realistic as well as touching. They felt all kinds of things for each other that they never said. They each showed love differently.
And, as is the case with most stories as wonderful as this one, by the end you are completely wrecked emotionally. I loved that this book doesn't use tricks or mysteries to get you to keep reading or because it feels like it has to use them to keep you invested. Most of the time it told you where you were going to end up a good 200 pages before it happened (or even in the prologue). But that didn't take anything away. Actually it added to the story in ways I didn't think possible.
This book is a story, plain and simple. And yet it's so profound and beautiful and touching. This is probably the best written book I have ever read.
Can we make it a international law that everyone, every single person, must read this book at some point in their lives? Can that be a thing?
"***A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY*** Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children."
"***THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN A BOY WHO HATES YOU*** A boy who loves you."
"Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain."
"And it would show me, once again, that one opportunity leads directly to another, just as risk leads to more risk, life to more life, and death to more death."
"Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness."
"It was one of those moments of perfect tiredness, of having conquered not only the work at hand, but the night who had blocked the way."
"But then, is there cowardice in the acknowledgement of fear? Is there cowardice in being glad that you lived?"
"In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer---proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water."
"I don't have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story."
"She wanted none of those days to end, and it was always with disappointment that she watched the darkness stride forward."
"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. But it was bombing carpet. Make no mistake."
"She heard his stomach growl---and he was giving people bread. Was this Germany? Was this Nazi Germany?"
"It's probably fair to say that in all the years of Hitler's reign, no person was able to serve the Fuhrer as loyally as me. A human doesn't have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence is that I'm always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die."
"...but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing."
"***THE BOOK THIEF--LAST LINE*** I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."
"It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on, coughing and searching, and finding."
"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."
"***A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR*** I am haunted by humans."