The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Image from wikipedia
I was wary approaching The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak because of it being a  holocaust themed book. The Jewish persecution, Nazism, the World War all these would often leave me with a heavy heart. The same feeling that I got after watching Schindler's List and even only reading a part of The Diary of Anne Frank.  I was afraid that the material would prove to be too difficult for me to wade through. But surprisingly, I breezed through the book.

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .
Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist- books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever they are to be found. 

With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

Marcus Zusak painted an atmosphere of what life was like during Nazism and the Jewish Persecution. I used the word "painted" because that is exactly what he did. He depicted the surroundings through colors and metaphors:

"Chocolate-colored sky"
"The eyes were like coffee stains"
"The color of bone, skeleton-colored skin"
"breakfast-colored sun"
"The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness"
"The streets were ruptured veins"

The whole slew of characters were very much real and endearing. Even the minor characters stood out for me. Isla Hermann, with her robe and her library, Rosa Hubberman's sharp tongue and brogue character, even Frau Holtzafel and her son Michael. Victor Chemmel, the leader of the rag tag robbers. Even death himself.

Death in whose voice the story was told was personified in a surprising and different way. He (or is it "it"?) is not the usual depiction of death. The one who is sinister and revels in taking souls instead he considers his job as tedious and tiresome. It's one of those "someone has to do it" kind of thing. Although when he disputed the long standing conception of  him by humans as carrying a scythe, that I sort of half-expected. It has always been like that in literature, like in vampire novels: garlic doesn't work, the "no reflection" thing is a falsehood, etc. etc. Although he does wear a robe, I was fairly surprised when he said he only wears it when its cold. Not the actual of wearing the robe but that death could actually feel cold. Very ironic. In fact, death's narration of the story is peppered with ironies. Even  the whole persona of death is ironic due to the fact that he cares about humans and their lives. He even goes further by saying he has a heart only it is a circle and ours is a line.  

Words were central to the story. That is what the book thief (Liesel) stole. Words that both delighted and yet made Liesel's life and all the others she loved miserable. Words that were responsible for spread of Nazism, for the Jewish persecution and the War. But on one hand, words also saved Liesel, Max Vanderburg, Frau Holtzafel, and even those huddled with her in those bomb shelters. Again, only one of the many ironies presented in the book. (cue Alanis Morisette's music) 

It is am amazing and refreshing story. Despite it being a holocaust themed book, it wasn't at all a heavy read in fact it was a page-turner for me. I think because it was lightened with  Liesel Meminger's escapades in school and with Rudy her bestfriend, her own home (mostly with her foster mother Rosa), her thieving excursions , even her touching moments with her Papa, Hans Huberman. This book made me both laugh and cry and it's one of those stories that stays with you. Go and get it. Stat.


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