Module 10: The Book Thief

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Book Summary:

Liesel is a young girl living in Germany during WWII with her foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann. She never intended to become a book thief, but when Liesel’s mother could no longer keep her and her brother she arranged for them to go to a foster family. However, Leisel’s little brother does not survive the trip and his death traumatizes Liesel. It’s on the day she buried her little brother that she steals her first book, and through it she bonds with her foster father as he teaches her to read late into the night. But life during World War II isn’t easy and as Liesel gets older she begins to understand the weight of Hitler and of the world.

APA Reference of Book:

Zusak, M. (2005). The book thief. New York, NY: Random House.

Impressions:

This was an emotional read. Since I used to work in a bookstore (RIP Borders) I understand that there are a few books that really get people buzzing. Person after person who read this book would tell me how it was a life-changing read, that I absolutely must drop everything and read it instantly. With books like that I tend to take the recommendations with a grain of salt, because surely something so overhyped would just let me down. But I generally put the books on my to-read list and figure I’ll give them a chance. After all, not all buzz worthy books turn into the Twilight franchise. So when this title showed up on the reading list for one of my classes, and I got news of the upcoming movie release the stars seemed to finally align. As I sat down to read it I don’t know what I expected but this book was certainly not it. For one, Death (!) narrates the book. That was the last thing in the world I ever expected upon opening it up, and I was surprised that in all the times I had this book suggested to me no one ever let that fact slip.  But Death as the narrator didn’t deter me so I kept on. I will have to say that I didn’t get into this book easily. I found Death’s narration to be very disjointed and jerky, especially at first. But as I made it past the first 50 pages and finally got into the book I found myself captivated.  I have to give it to Mr. Zusak, he wrote a good book. A book about WWII is rarely a happy one, so a book about WWII that has Death as a narrator should send out some warning signs. But oh is this book worth it!

I have studied world cultures and history (especially European history) extensively, even traveling to Europe to do so, and this book transported me to the cobble stone streets of Germany once more. It is one thing to read about the Holocaust from the perspective inside the concentration camps (see Playing for Time by Fania Fenelon or Night by Elie Wiesel if you’d like to read more), but for me it was interesting to see an historical, albeit fictitious, take on the children growing up in a world with disintegrating morals. It was interesting to see how Leisel goes from believing that Hitler is great to understanding the impact his actions are having on the people she loves.

Professional Review:

“This hefty volume is an achievement—a challenging book in both length and subject, and best suited to sophisticated older readers. The narrator is Death himself, a companionable if sarcastic fellow, who travels the globe “handing souls to the conveyor belt of eternity.” Death keeps plenty busy during the course of this WWII tale, even though Zusak (I Am the Messenger ) works in miniature, focusing on the lives of ordinary Germans in a small town outside Munich. Liesel Meminger, the book thief, is nine when she pockets The Gravedigger’s Handbook , found in a snowy cemetery after her little brother’s funeral. Liesel’s father—a “Kommunist”—is already missing when her mother hands her into the care of the Hubermanns. Rosa Hubermann has a sharp tongue, but Hans has eyes “made of kindness.” He helps Liesel overcome her nightmares by teaching her to read late at night. Hans is haunted himself, by the Jewish soldier who saved his life during WWI. His promise to repay that debt comes due when the man’s son, Max, shows up on his doorstep. This “small story,” as Death calls it, threads together gem-like scenes of the fates of families in this tight community, and is punctuated by Max’s affecting, primitive artwork rendered on painted-over pages from Mein Kampf. Death also directly addresses readers in frequent asides; Zusak’s playfulness with language leavens the horror and makes the theme even more resonant—words can save your life. As a storyteller, Death has a bad habit of forecasting (“I’m spoiling the ending,” he admits halfway through his tale). It’s a measure of how successfully Zusak has humanized these characters that even though we know they are doomed, it’s no less devastating when Death finally reaches them. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) “

(2006, January 30). [Review of the book The book thief, by M. Zusak]. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-375-83100-3

Library Uses:

I personally feel that this book lends itself to a book talk quite nicely. I would use this book to give a book talk in April leading up to Holocaust Remembrance day (Yom HaShoah).

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