Book Review: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

What is it about books that makes them so tantalizing?

What is it about them that begs to be picked up, to be enjoyed, to be READ?

I’m not quite sure what it is…but it is a powerful force.

It’s the force that made young Liesel Meminger perform her first act of thievery: picking up a book lying half hidden in the snow by her even younger brother’s grave.

What follows in The Book Thief is a masterful tale of the power of written words snatched from snowy seclusion, from a censor’s fire, from a kindly cruel neighbor’s library.

The illiterate Liesel is taught to read by her near-illiterate foster father. Liesel reads to the Jew her foster parents are hiding in their cellar. And both the Jew and Liesel write as death looks on.

For this story is set within Nazi Germany, while the Grim Reaper is busy across the whole of Europe.

The Book Thief is a fascinating story, not the least because it’s narrated by the Grim Reaper himself.

An excerpt from the beginning of the book:

“As I’ve been alluding to, my one saving grace is distraction. It keeps me sane. It helps me cope, considering the length of time I’ve been performing this job. The trouble is, who could ever replace me?….The answer, of course, is nobody, which has prompted me to make a conscious, deliberate decision–to make distraction my vacation. Needless to say, I vacation in increments. In colors.

Still, it’s possible that you might be asking, why does he even need a vacation? What does he need distraction from?

Which brings me to my next point.

It’s the leftover humans.

The survivors….

Which in turn brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors–an expert at being left behind.

It’s just a small story really, about, among other things:

  • A girl
  • Some words
  • An accordianist
  • Some fanatical Germans
  • A Jewish fist fighter
  • And quite a lot of thievery

I saw the book thief three times.

The Reaper tells the story of all his dealing with Leisel–the Book Thief, as he calls her–from her first act of thievery to her last breath. Along the way, he tells a story of men and women and little girls and boys who risked much and gained much in silent resistance to the Reich.

I found it wonderful.

Rating: 5 stars
Category:Historical fiction
Synopsis:The Grim Reaper tells the tale of a young girl inside Nazi Germany who finds herself enamored with books–and willing to go to great lengths to obtain them.
Recommendation: I greatly enjoyed this book–although it took a bit to get accustomed to the Reaper’s unique style

Interesting note about this book–This was my first, and last, adult fiction book with last name “Z”. Just so happens, all the other books my library owns by authors with last names starting in Z are either sci-fi or mysteries–books I determined from the outset that I wouldn’t include in my personal challenge. So there you have it :-)

In Praise of Historical Fiction

It may shock some of my readers, who are inclined to think highly of me (whether I deserve it or not), but I am not a fan of history.

I never have been.

While I looked with fascination at the fashions of bygone eras, was interested in olden modes of speech or transportation, and often envied historical skills in handiwork, I cared nothing for all the names and dates and circumstances and conflicts that make up the study of history.

I occasionally feigned interest in history so as to take interest in my brother (an avid history buff). But frankly? I didn’t understand the hoopla.

Oh, I played lip service to the value of history. You know, the whole “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and “if I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants” and all that.

But really, I’ve never been a fan of history.

At least, not until a few months ago when I picked up a copy of Bodie Thoene’s Vienna Prelude.

There I read of Adolf Hitler’s “peaceful” annexation of Austria, of Herman Goring and Winston Churchill, of the SA, the SS, and the Gestapo.

I continued reading and learned of Kristallnacht, of Nazi concentration camps, of the traitorous appeasement prize Britain awarded Nazi Germany by handing over Czechoslovakia. I learned of the narrow passage connecting Poland to the sea–and separating Germany from Germany. I learned of the pogroms and of the falsehood fabricated to justify the invasion of Poland.

I started to wonder what was true and what was fiction, so involved was I in the story unfolding in novel after novel.

I no longer cared only about the protagonists. I started to care about the whole story–the story behind and below and around the one created in the imagination of the author.

I became a fan of history.

Now I begin my journey into history, fueled by the fiction of an author who cares about fact.

My life, my outlook has been indelibly changed.

Such is the power of good historical fiction.