Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Category: 49. Read a book that has won a literary award
Date Started: January 8th 2017
Date Finished: January 21st 2017
I’ll start with a little note today, there will be spoilers in this review. And a second note, I have not seen the movie The Book Thief so I am coming at this completely fresh knowing only that it was set during WWII.
Those two things said, this book has been sitting on my bookshelf mocking me since I was still in high school and found it in a second hand bookshop and brought it home. Every single time I’ve gone to my bookshelf looking for something to read it’s screamed at me ‘choose me, read me’ and every time I’ve ignored it, fearing that like many popular books with such heavy topics it would not be a book that would capture my attention. This year I decided it was time.
I’ll be honest, the first couple of chapters didn’t really capture my attention, I persevered, though I’m not sure what made me continue when I’ve put so many similar books down. I’m glad I didn’t put it down though.
At some point during the book I became a little bit attached to the characters that inhabited Molching during the war, I wanted to know what happened to them and was devastated when they didn’t all make it through the book, though I think I always knew that would be the case given the setting.
Sometimes, I’ve found that an author will suddenly in the very last chapter or chapters of the book completely change my view of everything that led up to it, The Book Thief was one such book, suddenly all the pieces clicked together, and it was suddenly a very different story to what I had been reading so far. The story about a girl who learnt to read and used books to escape the world was suddenly alive because of a book, a book she wrote herself. One that nobody would see until she herself was dead.
This isn’t the only book I’ve read that gives Death a personality, but this Death was a little more abstract than the others I have encountered. This Death never truly revealed much about themselves or how their job worked. Leaving me with questions not about the story (though I desperately wish there was just a little more information about Liesel’s birth family) but about the narrator.
Throughout much of the book Liesel is presented with a childlike innocence, so unaware of the world that she lives in and the awful things that are happening nearby, as well as how all the aspects of her own life fit into the wider picture. The Hitler Youth is something she has to do, but never is it mentioned in relation to the atrocities that Max Vandenberg had experienced at the hands of the Nazi Party. Rudy, despite being shown to be kind and sympathetic to the Jewish, and other minorities, works desperately hard to win at the Hitler Youth Athletic Carnival.
At it’s core though, the Book Thief is a novel about cruelty but also kindness. It’s a book about ordinary people offering hope in the hardest and darkest of times. It’s a book about words. A book about the power that words have, the power to demonise a race, the power to make people follow unquestioningly. The power to heal, and care. And ultimately the power to save a life.
Now more than ever with so many parallels drawn between the present (particularly in America) and Nazi Germany; it’s important to remember just how powerful our words are. Use your words with care, use them not to harm but to support.