Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I really have a hard time talking about this book.  It's so beautiful, yet so difficult at the same time.  This was a re-read for me.  I read it for the first time several years ago, and then it was the selection for my book club for this month's meeting.  I don't know if I would have read it a second time without it having been selected by my book club.

Set in Germany during World War II, I feel this book gives an insight into WWII that is often overlooked.  When thinking of that war, we often (or at least I do) just think of Germany as the "bad guys".  You don't think about the average German family at that time, people who may not have agreed with the direction their country was heading, but had to survive there regardless.  The book is narrated by Death, and he is kept very busy throughout the book.

The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, who at the beginning of the book is an illiterate girl being taken by train to live with a new foster family.  She is taken by her mother, a communist, to try to give her a safer life.  Her younger brother dies on the train journey.  Liesel in now left to start a new life alone with her new foster parents, Hans and Rose Hubermann.

After the death of her brother, Liesel steals a book dropped by the gravediggers who bury him.  It is the beginning of her love of words, books and language, which carries her through the rest of her life.  Taught to read by her foster father, words change Liesel's life in ways she never imagined.

As a lover of words and books myself, this strikes a chord with me.  I love this girl and her story.

But aside from all that, this book introduces one of my favourite literary characters of all time, Hans Hubermann, Liesel's stepfather.  Foster parents often are depicted as the villains, but nothing can be further from the truth in this book.  Hans is genuine goodness and love personified, and one of the most beautiful characters I've ever read.

It's not a light read.  You're not going to walk away from this book and think, "Wow, that was great.  I loved that!" in a traditional way.  But if you're like me, you will be challenged by what you read, you'll love the characters, and you might even gain a new understanding about how people lived during WWII.

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