A Book Review: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
It is also a mournful story, and not one that you can simply close the cover and walk away from, it follows you. It seeks answers to thorny questions – it forces uncomfortable responses.
What is immediately clear is Marcus Zusak is a sensitive writer. His idea for the book began in Zusak’s childhood – his parents of Austrian-German descent grew up under Nazi rule. After having a family, they told their stories to their children around the kitchen table. Zusak remembered those stories, and they became the soil in which The Book Thief grew. (Random House, 2009) (Book photo, Amazon.com)
Zusak provides a surprise on the first page –we meet the narrator — Death. Not the arrogant Death of John Donne, or Milton’s incestuous Death, or even a specter with sickle. Zusak’s Death is sympathetic, beyond this, there is something more, it is in his voice, he cares.
Death is the observer throughout the life of the main character, 10-year-old orphaned Liesel Meminger, her foster family and their village. Liesel is the real book thief. Liesel’s first theft occurs when she deftly pockets a fallen book at her brother’s grave, it is a copy of the Gravediggers Handbook. While watching this petty theft, Death’s interest in Liesel is piqued. It is Liesel’s first, but not last, theft of a book. When she stole the book, Liesel did not even know what it was about, because she could not read. (Ghetto: photo courtesy of Pixaby).
In one instance, Liesel risks her life and the lives of her foster parents when she boldly removes a still smoldering book from a pile of burned books in Molching’s square. Had she been caught, the possible punishment was deportation and death, not just for her, but Max and the Hubermanns as well.
Yet in spite of the ever-present danger surrounding her, Liesel continues her search for ever more books, all the while blithely ignoring the risk of being caught. The danger and fear of everyone increase along with threat of more Allied bombings.
Zusak drew this tale from ordinary people’s real experiences living under Hitler’s rule. It was the ordinary people who hid, fed and clothed frightened Jews in their homes, in basements, attics, and whenever possible, somehow, managed to keep their precious books safe.
Lansky spent over 25 years searching for Yiddish books and in the end, he found a million. Before WWII, Yiddish was the common language among European Jews. The books stood as the record of their history, their lives, and their language.
When Jews were forced to abandon the only countries they had ever known, these books were what kept them together. Knowing they might never return they took their books and in doing so, saved their culture and their language.
While Liesel may be a fictional character, the time and events in which Liesel lived were real. Of the many others who took great risks to save their books, we may never know, but we can acknowledge their sacrifices and be grateful for the books they saved.
The hard question is, if pressed would we do the same?
Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York :Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW | ‘THE BOOK THIEF,’ BY MARKUS ZUSAK Fighting for Their Lives Review JOHN GREENMAY 14, 2006. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/14/books/review/14greenj.html
The Literary Traveler. Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (January 22, 2013). Katy Kelleher https://www.literarytraveler.com/books/review-of-the-book-thief-by-markus-zusak/
Markus Zusak Markus Zusak’s compelling appointment with Death BookPage interview by Linda M. Castellitto March 2006 https://bookpage.com/interviews/8341-markus-zusak-teen#.XO_Z-YhKiUk
It’s a steal. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Ardagh The Guardian.Sat 6 Jan 2007. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/jan/06/featuresreviews.guardianreview26 Philip
The failurist: Markus Zusak at TEDxSydney 2014 Ted Talks 2014 TEDx Talks Published on Jun 14, 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-_8QIdm4hA
Interview with Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief Random House Kids Published on May 1, 2009 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7B8ioiZz7M
World Over – 2016-04-07 – ‘The Book Thief’ author, Markus Zusak with Raymond Arroyo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFSxzc12y6A
Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz translated by Lilit Thwaites Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (2017).
Lansky, Aaron (2004). Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. p. 289. ISBN 1-56512-429-4.
Milton’s Satanic Trinity in Paradise Lost by Dr Taylor Marshallhttps://taylormarshall.com/2007/11/miltons-satanic-trinity-in-paradise.html
A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate and foster for homeless animals.