Author: Markus Zusak| Genre: Historical Fiction| Pages: 584
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
This is going to be one long but endearing review. But I do hope you read it till the end because it did take serious struggle of the heart and mind to review this one right, and not let my affectionate feelings for this book get in the way. I swear I’ve tried!
Let’s begin, shall we?
There is no one way to review Zusak’s masterpiece of a novel, and yet no matter which way I look, every angle looks right to me. This is the story of Liesel Meminger when she first arrives at her foster parents’ house in Munich, in Nazi Germany. She has suffered a great loss; the aftermath of which will haunt her for years to come. She has also, for the first time, encountered death, but she doesn’t know about it. And she is up yet for the most adventurous upbringing under Hubermann’s roof, expecially with Hanz, her foster father.
Set in Nazi Germany, rooted in World War 2, the unrest arising from Hitler’s ‘Hate Jews’ campaigns is dominant throughout. The cruelty, detention, concentration camps, deaths, uncertainty, mental and psychological suffering, longing for freedom, urge to revolt, suppressed furore, are all rampant throughout the pages of The Book Thief. Married with the impressive writing style, one can easily see through history and feel Nazi Germany and the fuhrer’s reign coming alive in its pages.
The love to steer clear of everything redundant is quite aesthetically achieved by the author by making a loveable character out of a non-human narrator; one loathed, also possibly feared, by all humanity. Death plays a categorical role in putting the pieces together for this book, tying its ends namely pre-war period and the post-war one in Nazi Germany, the birth-ground of our book. It is worth a mention how death can be someone vulnerable, not scary but scared, lost, and overcome with human emotions of love and hate alike us mortals. That spin on death’s disposition stood out for me, and restored my faith that genuinely gripping works might be few and far between, but not totally extinct.
Speaking of characters, you’ll come across many but within the first 50 pages, you know who is going to stay with you until the end. Liesel’s foster parents are worlds apart and yet balance out each other spectacularly under the strained times. Their tenderness outshines anything I am yet to come across in the literary world, although Molly Weasley from Harry Potter gets real close to Roza Hubermann’s character.
Hanz Hubermann is a loving fatherly figure; his devotion to Leisel is overwhelming and moving, to say the least. Very early after Leisel arrives, he finds out about her love for books and book-thieving acts but never does he condemn her. If anything, he ensures she learns to read, and grow her love for books, which as one will see is hardly satiable and would make her THE BOOK THIEF. The head Hubermann is an endearing character for there is much to learn from him. He is someone who would not think twice before putting his life on the line for his loved ones. A savaging yet saluting decision of hiding a Jew in your basement in Nazi Germany is everyone’s cup of tea, you think? Within no time, he stole my heart and stepped up the ladder to become my most favorite character in Himmel Street.
Liesel, our girl, is bold, vivacious, earthly, and impulsive. She is everything a 13-year-old is. But through the plot, she grows from being a nervous, uncertain, grieving girl, to a wonderful young woman. Her character; as depicted through death’s eyes is motivating, and she comes to be the character death personally admires. Apart from these two, Roza Hubermann, Max Vanderburg (the Jew hiding in Hubermann basement) and Rudy Steiner (Liesel’s schoolmate) are the other characters who have noteworthy contribution to the story and ones the book couldn’t do without. They add substantial depth to Liesel’s story and persona.
The writing style is very poetic in approach and the personification factor adds more beauty to the reading experience. Despite the proximity to war and cruelty, the dark theme of the prose exudes oodles of optimism; instead of making one feel depressed. The feelings of unrest and strain live with you only so long and soon you find yourself smiling at some act of courageous vivacity by Liesel or Rudy or Hanz.
This book is a book within a book within a book for all its myriad flavors that wont leave you quenched even at the end of nigh 600 pages. More than the flabbergasting prose style, it is the dormant theme that will shoutout to you for listening in carefully, giving your undivided attention, so that nothing goes amiss. The writing is brimming with brilliance, speaking tonnes of the peculiar flair only a real prodigy can attempt. But that comes from eons of mental ache, from obvious trials and tribulations, resulting in a worded gem that not only demands but deserves patience, perseverance, and also passion to fully appreciate the outcome.
In a nutshell
The Book Thief is about many things. It is about every emotion ever known to man – love, kindness, fear, lust, hatred, rage, and you can throw in some more. But what the book stands out for is freedom in difficult times. This book is no more Liesel’s story than it is about the Hubermanns, Max, Rudy, or death himself. But more than anything, this book is about fights – fighting for survival, fighting for freedom, fighting for the right, fighting for your loved ones. And yet, that’s not all.
After drafting this review, I asked myself, how is it there isn’t one thing I felt amiss and I said to myself, not all books have flaws. Do read this book and tell me what’s your take on The Book Thief.
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Happy reading till we meet next.
Until then, carpe diem! 🙂