The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Title:  The Book Thief

Author:  Markus Zusak

Paperback:  354 pages

Publisher:  Transworld Publishers (div of Random House)

Publish Date:  2005

ISBN:  9780552773898

Miscellaneous: Don’t forget to check out this review’s companion post. It includes info on The Book Thief‘s future as a movie, and several quotes from the book I wasn’t able to work into this review.

On June 23, 1942, there was a group of French Jews in a German prison, on Polish soil.  The first person I took was close to the door, his mind racing, then reduced to pacing, then slowing down, slowing down…

Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born.  I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks.  I listened to their last, gasping cries.  Their French words.  I watched their love-visions and freed them from their fear.

I took them all away, and if ever there was a time I needed distraction, this was it.  In complete desolation, I looked at the world above.  I watched the sky as it turned from silver to grey to the colour of rain.  Even the clouds tried to look the other way.

Sometimes, I imagined how everything appeared above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye.

They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 358

I finished The Book Thief  by Markus Zasuk on Tuesday, but have not been able to stop thinking about it since.  Normally, I sit down and write the review as soon as I finish a book, then pick up the next book and move on.  However, when I read the last words of The Book Thief :

A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR:  I am haunted by humans.

I found myself not wanting to let the book go.  I told myself I wanted to wait to review it so it could sink in and ruminate.  I had already posted it on BookMooch figuring, like most books, I wouldn’t want to reread it, and it was mooched up right away, but now I don’t want to give it up.  I have put off starting Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince because I don’t want to put anything else in there ever again.  All of this is utterly baffling to me because I have never had an attachment or a reaction to any book like this.

The book itself, plot-wise and such, is easy to sum up.  It is the story of Liesel Meminger, the book thief, who comes to live the Hubermann’s at age nine as their foster daughter.  On the way to Molching, where the Hubermann’s live, Liesel’s younger brother dies and is buried in a cemetery at the next stop.  It is in this place she “steals” her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, after it falls out of the pocket of the apprentice gravedigger.  As the novel progresses, Liesel makes friends with other children on Himmel (a word that means “heaven”) Street, the Hubermann’s take in and hide a Jew, and Liesel discovers the awe-inspiring private library of the mayor’s wife, from which she liberates a book now and then.  All this is told by the book’s narrator, Death.

Summarizing the book is simple.  Explaining and conveying how it effected me, the reader, is anything but.  First of all, Zusak writes with a poetic beauty that captures the way children take in the world around them.  He often crosses the communication of the five senses:

At times, in that basement, she woke up tasting the sound of the accordion in her hears.  She could feel the sweet burn of champagne on her tongue. -p. 365

One line I remember but was unable to find said something like “The smell of the sound of my footsteps,”   and there are so many more lines like these in the book.

Another concept Zusak descriptively conveys is the power of words.</p>

Once, words had rendered Liesel useless, but now, when she sat on the floor, with the mayor’s wife at her husband’s desk, she felt an innate sense of power.  It happened every time she deciphered a new word or pieced together a sentence. -p. 154

She couldn’t tell exactly where the words came from.  What mattered was that they reached her.  They arrived and kneeled next to the bed. -p. 246

After a miscarriaged pause, the mayor’s wife edged forward and picked up the book.  She was battered and beaten up, and not from smiling this time.  Liesel could see it on her face.  Blood leaked from her nose and licked at her lips.  Her eyes had blackened.  Cuts had opened up and a series of wounds were rising to the surface of her skin.  All from words.  From Liesel’s words. -p. 273

Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will never fire a gun,” he said.  “I will not have to…”  His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible…  He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany.  It was a nation of Farmed thoughts. -p. 451

Frighteningly, it was exactly through the power of words and a healthy dose of charisma that Hitler was able to accomplish all the evil that was done in his name.  He himself didn’t do the physical work, that would have required him to be in several places at once making that impossible, but through the words of his speeches and policies others took up his cause.  Even more frightening is that his words are still used and followed to this day by some.

Also, through the use of Death, the ultimate impartial onlooker, as narrator Zusak is able to make epiphanic observations about human beings:

In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer – proof again of the contradictory human being.  So much good, so much evil.  Just add water. -p. 171

I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men.  They are not.  They’re running at me. -p. 182

Death also points out that, beginning with houses of cards and sandcastles, humans “watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse and… smile at the beauty of destruction.”  And he states a couple of times that the human child is much cannier than the adult.

By far, however, the most important observation Death makes, the concept that sets the tenor of the entire book is this:

AN OBSERVATION
A pair of train guards.
A pair of gravediggers.
When it came down to it, one
of them called the shots. The
other did what he was told.The
question is, what if the

other is a lot more than one?
-p. 30

What happens when there are a lot more people who simply do as there told, without question?  What happens to a society when a madman can rule through eloquent speeches, expressing ideals of hatred, and inspiring others to carry out morally reprehensible acts of violence and wickedness?

The Book Thief by Markus Zasuk is haunting and breath-taking, poetically beautiful and filled with truth.  Death often expresses sardonic, almost bitter, statements of irony, all the while telling the reader he is impartial.  He points out both the evil and the good of humans, expresses both disappointment and admiration of the species among whom he walks and collects.  It is a Homeric work that is full of joy and sorrow, anger and forgiveness, love and loss.  It is the story of a handful of people in Nazi Germany during 1939-1945; adults, children, Catholic, Nazi, and Jew, the “free” (was anyone truly free then?) and the hidden, the epitome of the “master race” and the persecuted and annihilated.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you’ll take a look to the right, you’ll notice I’ve added a new widget in the sidebar labelled “Mt. TBR Hall of Fame.”  This is my Top 10 favorite books of all-time.  This, honestly, is an imprecise feat, as I know I’ll think of a book that I liked better but forgot, or I’ll read a book that will replace a book on here, and that is okay because I can always edit it.  When I added the widget, I was in the middle of reading The Book Thief, but it had already impressed me enough to be listed in 6th place… and I hadn’t even finished it yet.  And after finishing it and digesting it and writing this review, it has moved up to first place.

Obviously, as The Book Thief by Markus Zasuk is now my all-time favorite book, I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  It should be included in school curriculum alongside The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s NightThe Book Thief has both historicity and literary eloquence, and will undoubtedly become a classic.

 hated it!didn't like itIt was okayLiked it.Loved it!

Again, don’t forget to check out this review’s companion post.

Friday Fill-Ins ~ Inka-Do Winka Sesame Tweeds

Oy Vey!  I’m so behind this week!  Here are my Friday Fill-Ins:

1. Why do we have to “suffer the little children to come?”  Why can’t we send them to boarding school?

2. Reading, obsessively checking my wishlist at BookMooch and going to bed at a decent hour are now habits.

3. I have a brain like an elephant and  the weight of a bird… no wait… it’s the other way around.

4. I had never heard the phrase “Inka-do winka sesame tweeds” and it is probably because I just made it up.

5. Nobody here ever replaces the roll of toilet paper the way I always do.

6. How was I to know that, while they make a delicious omelet, it’s illegal to cook bald eagle eggs.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to catching up on my blogging, finishing the dishes and reading a few more chapters of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, tomorrow my plans include catching up on the laundry and reading HP and the HBP, and Sunday, I want to have finished HP and the HBP and have posted the review and maybe a little gardening (though Maggie will be mad at me if I get it done while she’s gone to her dad’s)!

Friday Fill-In –

1. Said the night wind to the little lamb, “How far to the nearest 7-Eleven?”
2. The first Noel, the angel did say, was a sweet, little pastel calico that my middle daughter still misses terribly (we found the kitty at our town’s Christmas parade and named her “Noel”).
3. Pigeons fly and poo, Over the hills and everywhere.
4. It came upon the midnight clear, from the murky depths to challenge Santa’s hold as Lord of the Chimney and Master of the Sleigh.
5. A six inch incision and rib spread will, Let your heart be light.
6. And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing on the tv shows “In the Heat of the Night” and “All in the Family” (the actor’s name is Carol O’Connor).
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to finishing and reviewing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, tomorrow my plans include finishing and reviewing as many of the rest of the Narnia books as possible and Sunday, I want to have all the Narnias done, my Sunday Salon posted, and start in on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!

TSS – Habits, Addictions, and I’m Back!!

The Sunday Salon.com

Alright, alright… So I’ve been away for a couple weeks months, and the few posts in between seem to get the same comments, “I was wondering where you’ve been! I thought you died!” lol… Not quite, but I found a virtual world called Second Life and found it rather addictive. Think: Everything the real world has to offer, and then add flying, teleporting… being a werewolf or vampire… or a middle-age princess or knight in King Arthur’s court… and you can see why it’s so addictive.

I’m very much a creature of habit, BUT… my habits are so-SO-SO easily disrupted. My grandma’s death and funeral brought my mom up from Texas for a week long visit, which knocked me out of my reading habit. I decided to try Second Life because my best friend and her fiance (now husband…Yay!) were ALWAYS talking about it. So, on a whim, I created an avatar, signed on and was instantly caught up… so much so that I’ve been planning to buy a second computer and giving this one to the kids because I wouldn’t get off even for them to take their hour computer time (3 hours… I couldn’t even take 3 hours away!).

And in the process of living in Second Life (a common expression on it is “My first life is getting in the way of my Second Life!), I met a guy. Now, if you knew me, you’d know what a LAUGH this is. I’ve always been adamant AGAINST online relationships… and here I am, in a relationship began online. Yeah… be careful what you say because you may end up eating your words… lol. BUT, it’s mostly good. Both of us have had some really bad luck in past relationships, so there’s a lot of fear and insecurities to get past, and I vacillate several times a day between ending it NOW to avoid the heartache that MAY happen and going headlong into it, hoping for the best. HOPE.. *gack!*… never been a good friend of mine.

So, boyfriend lives about 2 1/2 hours from me and came to visit for the first time last weekend. Two and a half days of goo-goo eyes and my kids (who love him already, and likewise… a good chunk of my fears and insecurities eliminated right there) chanting “KISS! KISS! KISS!” then going, “EwwWWWwwwwWWww!” when we did, and my habit of Second Life was broke. I’ve been on for maybe, MAYBE, 8 hours in the last week.

And what filled the Second Life spot? Back to the books :-D and reviewing (-: and blogging the memes \o/ (yay!). I had the commitment of a November 25th blog stop for Two Brothers: One North, One South by David H. Jones, and I had only read a chapter or so before his visit, so I had to cook through it to make the deadline. And while it was an excellently written and researched book, it wasn’t exactly my cuppa. However, it really reminded me of my serious LOVE of reading, and how I’ve always said that as long as you have a book there’s no hell you can’t escape. Hey, if I lost the internet or if Second Life was shut down for some reason, where would I escape to? But books are always there, always accessible, and provide a second life in the world within.

And one of the fun things with my boyfriend is that he’s an avid reader. I’ve introduced him to The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, my number one Best New Author book and definitely on my top 5 reads for this year, as well as getting him into the Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer.

He had read the first two books, Twilight and New Moon, and had just started reading the third, Eclipse, when he came down Friday. One reason for coming Friday was so we could go together to see the movie Twilight (I should review the movie, but I’ll have to watch it again… lol.. I was a bit, erm.. distracted the first time ;-) ). So when I finished Two Brothers, I picked up Breaking Dawn so I could keep ahead of him. Problem is, he’s reading them by audio book, which is faster than I can read. I HAVE to beat him, lol, so I picked up the audio book to read along. Hehehehe…. So I’m in chapter 16 and he’s in chapter 7, and if I read while he sleeps I should be able to beat him ;-) .

And now I’m so excited to be back into the books… of course, now I’m getting the “Where are you? Are you dead?” messages from my SL friends, but Boyfriend can let them know ;-)

So what’s next on my TBR right away pile? Well, after Breaking Dawn’s 700+ pages, I think I’ll read Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr. It’s a nice thin book, and I saw the movie when it came out… hadn’t realized it was a book until a few days later. Then maybe Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling… the movie will be out soon, so I want to get it read before then. Then… maybe Yiddish Policemen’s Unionby Michael Chabon (never read anything by him) and Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, or vice versa. Also, I’ve been slowly working through Emma by Jane Austen, so I’ll get back to my Jane-a-thon, too.  AND… I’m ashamed to say, but somewhere in the last couple months I missed a blog tour stop.  I was suppose to be on Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.  I couldn’t find the date I was suppose to post… if I would have looked at the letter in the book I would’ve seen it was for September 30th.  I think I didn’t start looking for the date until after my House and Home review was posted, so I owe that review quickly.  As well as owing a review of Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland for LibraryThing’s ER group.  AND all the other ARC books I compulively requested… which is a LOT :-\ .

My reading goal was 75 books by December 31st, and I’m at 54 books… which means I’ve got less than five weeks to read 21 books. Hmm… don’t know if I can do that now, that’ll be more than 5 books a week, but I’ll do my best to get as close as possible.

So check back often, because the reviews are going to be flying up here quickly.

Oh…

and I’M BACK!!! :-D

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