Monday, October 27, 2008

The Book Thief

The true human cost of World War II is conveyed eloquently and perfectly in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. Rarely have I read a more emotionally-powerful book than this true gem.

The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger who, at the beginning of the story, is only 9 years old and has just arrived at a foster home. Her parents have both been sent away (apparently they are "Komunists") and her little brother died in a train accident en route to Munich. And it is at her brother's funeral that Liesel steals her first book, setting the stage for many more to come.

Liesel lives with Rosa and Hans Hubermann. While Rosa is a tough, no-nonsense woman who often abuses Liesel physically and mentally, she hides a rather warm heart. But it is Hans, whom Liesel soon comes to call "Papa", who truly captures Liesel's heart. He helps her learn how to read, thus spawning Liesel's love for words and for books.

Liesel grows up on Himmel Street in Munching, a suburb of Munich. She becomes best friends with Rudy Steiner, a boy her age, and the two play soccer in the streets, steal fruit from a farmer's orchard, and stand up for each other against all odds. The war touches them from all angles: from a book burning to Jews being marched through the streets to Dachau, to Liesel and her family hiding a Jew named Max, to Rudy's father going off to war, to rationing, to the Hitler Youth and everything in between.

Throughout it all, Liesel clings to her books - some she received as presents from her Papa, while others she has stolen from the library of the mayor's wife. Each book is precious: but she soon learns the awesome power that words hold.

One word can sum up this book - brilliant. I have rarely read a book that is so well-written, with such colorful and vivid language that made me envious as a writer. But even more than the writing is the unusual nature of the story itself. Death is the narrator, and Death knows all and sees all. And in the process, Death reveals its own frailty.

It's an amazing work, very ambitious, and completely absorbing. It is one of the best books I have ever read and with my long history of reading, that is definitely saying something. This book is deserving of all the accolades it has received.