Monday, June 15, 2009

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Liesel Meminger has just watched her little brother die and be buried in a strange town when her mother deposits her with her new foster parents in the small town of Molching, Germany and disappears. Needless to say, Liesel has some trouble adjusting to all the changes in her 9-year-old life, waking up every night in her new home with a nightmare. Luckily, her new Papa, Hans Hubermann, is a gentle, kind man, who takes Liesel under his wing, sitting up with her every night when she has her nightmares, eventually using this time to teach the illiterate child to read. His wife, Rosa, is rough around the edges, and while Liesel grows to love her as well, she is closest to her Papa.

Liesel, the Book Thief, stole her first book at her brother's burial - The Gravedigger's Handbook - when it fell out of the grave digger's pocket. Hans teaches her to read with this book and doesn't ask too many questions when she comes home with other books, but reads them along with her. Words become of utmost importance and comfort in Liesel's life.

Growing up in wartime Germany, Liesel is witness to many acts of cruelty, but also acts of great courage and kindness. Her neighbor, best friend, and co-conspirator, Rudy, is her loyal companion and continuously demonstrates his willingness to to anything for her. Zusak shines the light on the other side of Nazi Germany - not everyone was a goose-stepping monster, there were plenty of good-hearted folks living within the regime.

The tale is narrated by Death himself, who is quite taken by Liesel the first time he meets her, when he collects her brother's soul. Through his telling, occasional asides and foreshadowing, we get to know and love Liesel (and sort of get a kick out of Death.) The writing in this book is absolutely lovely in its imagery, language, and style. Zusak has written an unforgettable book about the Holocaust, about life, about love and friendship, and also about death. Who could resist a book where books are so crucial to the story line? This book is actually marketed towards Young Adults; however, it is a wonderful read for adults and older teens alike. Do yourself a favor, stick with the beginning which can be a little daunting to get into, have the tissues handy, and dive right in to this book. You'll be glad you did.

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