Thursday, September 9, 2010
The Book Thief
"500 page book, set in Nazi Germany, the narrator's Death, and you think, "How do you recommend that to your friends?" - Markus Zusak
Let me try, Markus. This book, which has been on my "to read" list since it was published in 2006 (which says more about my adherence to reading lists than the length of my reading list), is the best book I've read in 2010.
The reason why this is the best book I've read is because Death is the narrator and Death is a poet. Or maybe an artist. You wouldn't think that an entity that extinguishes life could appreciate the beauty of what life has to offer but Zusak's Death does. Even in war-strewn Germany in the 1940's, Death is able to see that beauty can come from ugliness, good from evil.
The story is about a young girl named Leisel and begins with Leisel, her brother and mother traveling to a foster home. The mother is unable to care for her children. On the way there, however, the brother dies. While attending the burial of her brother, she picks up a book dropped by one of the gravediggers. Leisel cannot read despite being nine years old. She keeps the book as a reminder of her brother.
Upon reaching her foster parents, she discovers that her mother-to-be is a harsh acting, profanity spitting individual. The father, however, is my favorite character in the book. Hans Hubermann is a caring individual who treats everyone kindly.
Hans and his wife, Rosa, both dropped out of school at young ages and neither are good readers. Hans works to teach Leisel how to read after discovering her stolen book. Leisel continue to improve and learns the power and magic of words; an important lesson in Nazi Germany where Hitler relied greatly on his verbal strength to rally and unify the country.
Because this is Nazi Germany and because Hans is pretty close to sainthood, it isn't too surprising when Hans stashes a Jew in his basement. The Jew, Max, is the son of a man who saved Hans' life in World War I. Max and Leisel become good friends and over the course of the story, they each create a book for one another for different reasons. It is Death's encounter with Max's book which inspires him to tell this story.
There's so much that goes on in this story. Hans' son is devoted to the Nazi cause and is angry at Hans for not being supportive and joining the party. Leisel's best friend, Rudy, is inspired by Jesse Owens and becomes one of the best athletes in town as well as being a top student, a combination that is enticing to the Nazis. Leisel rescues a book from a book burning and then proceeds to swipe tomes from the mayor.
Given the book's length, it moves quickly. Zusak paints wonderful little stories that combine into an intricate masterpiece. It really is a beautiful book filled with emotion.
This is this year's book for the One Book, One Community project which is what prompted my reading this now. This was a great choice even though there is much debate over whether this is a Young Adult book or not. Too often, folks (myself included) dismiss Young Adult books as being "not adult enough". After reading The Book Thief, I'm definitely inclined to be more open-minded on such matters.