By Kaitlin Gertz
a German girl — a hidden Jew — spoilers — many deaths — and the importance of books
I would recommend this book under the following conditions: you are 1) appreciative of good books and enjoy reading them, or are 2) a fan of crying. I am both, so this book was a win-win for me. It managed to contain a lot of drama and history into a book that seemed to just be about everyday life in Nazi Germany.
***A BRIEF SUMMARY***
The Book Thief is about a girl named Liesel Meminger.
She is, indeed, a book thief.
She is also an orphan.
It takes place in Nazi Germany, where she lives with her foster family.
They hide a Jew in their basement.
As a reader (but not thief) of books, there were many things that drew me in. First and foremost was the time period. Markus Zusak chose a time that is both highly controversial and a subject that attracts a lot of people because of the sheer amount of tragedy involved. Where there’s tragedy, there’s onlookers. The actions of the Nazis during the Holocaust killed millions of people within such a short amount of time that the general public only had a glimpse of what was really going on after so many deaths had occurred. The book juxtaposes characters who have an intimate knowledge of concentration camps and those who are a part of the oblivious general public. As a reader, it presents an interesting narrative,
You would also expect a book about the Holocaust to be from the perspective of a Jewish person. Instead, the narrator is Death, and the main character is a non-Jewish German girl. Death doesn’t even focus too much on the concentration camps. They focus on Liesel and the deaths that impact her. For example, the book starts with the death of Liesel’s brother. This event follows her into later life, and is what draws her and Hans Hubermann, her foster father, together. She has nightmares and Hans wakes her up and stays with her to make sure she’s alright. Having a foster family means Liesel is without any biological family, as neither of her parents could not care for her and her brother is dead. However, her family still exists by way of the Hubermanns, her foster family, and her friend Rudy. It was an interesting way of portraying the theme of “family is formed by choice, not birth” without saying it outright.
Another interesting technique was the narration of the book. As stated before, the narrator is Death. But Death rarely speaks. There are parts in the book where their voice is very clear: one, in the beginning, where they explain what they see when people die; two, when they describe events in the book in which Liesel has no knowledge of, like a character dying later or the background of a specific character; and three, at the end, when Liesel finally dies.
The official point of view in the story is omniscient, because Death knows all which creates an interesting dynamic between what Zusak chooses for Death to reveal and what he doesn’t. For example, he reveals that Rudy, Liesel’s best friend, is going to die. For most, this is a pretty big no-no in books: you do not reveal what is going to happen at the end of the book. That ruins one of the points of reading. However, it does creates a lot of dramatic irony. We know Rudy is going to die, and that Liesel is going to be very sad and regretful that he died, but Liesel doesn’t know. In the book, Rudy is always asking for a kiss, and Liesel is always saying no. When Rudy dies, Liesel kisses his dead body. It makes an already heartbreaking event even sadder.
One thing that is stressed throughout the entire book is the importance of reading, and the importance of not just reading good books, but reading anything you can. The very beginning of the book starts out with Liesel stealing a book but having absolutely no idea how to read it. This is another way she and Hans grow closer: they read together. It also brought Max, the Jewish man the Hubermann’s were hiding, and Liesel together. Max reads with Liesel and eventually starts writing her stories.
He writes a little book called The Word Shaker, which is about the importance of words and how you use them, and how the right words can get people to side either with you or against you. It was a great metaphor for not only the world then, as Hitler’s speeches convinced so many that the Jewish race was subhuman, but for any time, as words can hurt people or weave stories or make people like you. As a writer, I loved that section. To write something that carries so much meaning is the dream, and that’s what it meant: words mean something, so make them count.
Writing also saved Liesel’s life in a very obvious way: she was in the basement writing when her town was bombed. As a result, she was not impacted by the physical devastation. Instead, she had to deal with the aftermath, in which Max comes back for her after the concentration camps were freed. It was a very heart-wrenching, but tied up way of ending the story.
I’m going to end this review the same way I thought the book ended: unnecessarily. In the book, it skips a few decades to Liesel’s death. While I understand that the narrator is Death and that’s what they do, it didn’t seem to fit well with the story. I appreciated knowing Liesel turned out okay, but having Max and Rudy’s dad come back already kind of signaled that. I would have preferred to fill in the blanks myself. I would have also preferred to end this in a better way.
Kaitlin Gertz is a Sophomore at Barbara Ingram