Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Summary:   During Hilter's reign over Nazi Germany, Death is very busy collecting souls.  While collecting the soul of a young boy, Death first encounters Liesel Meninger, who steals a book she happens upon near her brother's grave.  Over the years, Death touches Liesel's life indirectly many times, but it is only when Death becomes a book thief himself that he learns Liesel's whole intriguing story.  In the face of the unimaginable horrow of war, Death is compelled by Liesel's kindness and by the actions of her friends and family to realise humans are more complex than he will ever understand.

Dystopian Issues:  War, Holocaust, Totalitarian Government
Part of a Series:  No
Age of Main Character:  Death's age is unknown, but Liesel is nine years old at the beginning of the story
Number of Pages:  550
Year of Publication: 2005
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books

Review:  What I need to remind myself about this book is that Death is the main character, not Liesel.  If Death is the main character in addition to his narrating duties, then I can't get mad at Zusak for ending the tale of Liesel so abruptly and insufficiently.  Instead, Liesel's story is merely a catalyst for the profound change in Death, transforming him from a passive collector of souls to a philosopher on the varying nature of humanity.
     Using Death as a narrator allows Zusak to take a non-linear approach to his tale.  Unfortunately this style often meanders and at times ruins the natural suspense of his own story.
     I have to give kudos to Zusak though, because somehow he manages to make Death not only likeable, but an angel of mercy as opposed to a villain.  Death's point of view of World War II is apt, powerful, and fresh.
     While I felt Zusak could have been more concise, I did enjoy the journey of 550 pages that he took me on.  His portrayal of Hitler as a Word Shaker and the atmosphere of Nazi Germany was insightful and gives the reader a lot to think about.
     I don't find Zusak to be the smoothest writer, but I am continually intrigues by his ideas.  For that reason, The Book Thief is definitely worth reading.

Real Life Dystopias:  I am including The Book Thief on my dystopian review site because I believe dystopias do not have to be fictional to count under the dystopian genre.  The Book Thief is an excellent example of a fictional account of the real life dystopia that was Nazi Germany and World War II.

Memorable Quotes: "Yes, often, I am reminded of her, and in one of my vast array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell.  It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right.  Each one an attempt - an immense leap of an attempt - to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.
     Here it is.  One of a handful.
     The Book Thief.
     If you feel like it, come with me.  I will tell you a story.
     I'll show you something."
     -  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pgs. 14-15

     I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
     I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold
     And I don't have those skull-like
     facial features you seem to enjoy
     pinning on me from a distance.  You
     want to know what I truly look like?
     I'll help you out.  Find yourself
     a mirror while I continue."
     -  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pg 307

     "The words.  Why did they have to exist?  Without them, there wouldn't be any of this.  Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing.  There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better."
     -  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pg 521

     "I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race - that rarely do I ever simply estimate it.  I wanted to ask how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant."
     The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pg 550

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