The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Insane or not, Rudy was always destined to be Liesel’s best friend. A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak takes place in Germany during the rise of Hitler and is a story narrated by Death.  Going about his daily business, collecting a soul on a train headed for the town of Molching, he encounters ten-year old Liesel, who is bound for a new life with a foster family. It is the first, but not the last time he will encounter Liesel at a work appointment.

Years after their first encounter Death is busy at work harvesting souls and happens across Liesel’s forgotten journal, saving it from certain death in a landfill. And this is when Death becomes the book thief. He keeps the journal, reading it again and again over the years, because even Death needs a little distraction from the hum drum of his never-ending to-do list.

This is how he is able to give us the story of Liesel.

In the beginning we see her at a funeral where a book falls from a grave digger’s pocket and she picks it up and takes it, despite not being able to read. And this is when little Liesel becomes the book thief. As Death narrates, we find out this is not the only book Liesel will secret away. We will witness as her thievery transcends into avenues outside of books, the first time she lays eyes on a library, the first time she finally gives her best friend Rudy that kiss he’s been after for years…

We will also learn of a stranger who makes his way to Molching and into Liesel’s home. We watch as her (comparatively) idyllic life becomes burdened with secrets. This marks the turning point when her biggest concerns — learning to read, playing soccer, delivering the laundry uncreased — are replaced by the much heavier things she is beginning to carry in Nazi Germany.

This was an incredibly easy read, but I don’t want that to mislead you. Although it seems very simply written, each word was obviously chosen carefully so that every sentence is impactful. It was at turns humorous and heartbreaking. It was beautiful and imaginative and almost a bit magical in its ability to find love and happiness and compassion during such a terrible time.

I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.

 

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