The Greatness of Humans – A Book Thief Review

June 6, 2014 2:01 pm

Highly acclaimed war novels would include War and Peace constructed by the brilliant Leo Tolstoy and All thebookthiefQuiet on the Western Front  by Erich Maria Remarque, however I’m firmly petitioning for the added addition of the The Book Thief by Markus Zusak to this invisible cannon. The novel is narrated by Death, a small-what cheerful, colour loving, patron for Hitler. Death follows the spell-binding story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl who is sent by her mother, to live with Hubermann’s, on the small German Himmel Street. Her world is the 1939-1945 second World War. Her world is book-burnings, Youth Hitler meetings, and, of course, book thieving.

I personally have never read opening lines that intrigued every possible sense I had at my disposal. I can never say that Death has ever spoken to me as it does in the opening lines of this novel. I can strongly say that in all my time of imagination and creatively I have never experience death in every sense. However, this novel isn’t about Death. Zusak is simply narrating it. No, this is Liesel Meminger’s story. It’s the story of simple German civilians watching their country being hijacked by Hitler. They are confused and only assume that they are met to continue living as per usual. What else is there to do? I personally believe that this story has never been told before. Not in the way that has been depicted in novels such  The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. 

The striking epiphany of this novel is the simple truth that the lives of these people calls for the same emotional pull that is required of stories like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or Schindler’s List. You strangely realise it wasn’t only Jews or Germans associated with Jews, who suffered greatly during this world-wide crisis. I had never considered the lives of German civilians; I’ve only considered  British civilians, London being bombarded, people losing their houses and their lives being destroyed. Death tells you that this happens to everyone, even Germans, Hitler didn’t and couldn’t protect them.

bookthiefLiesel meets only a few characters in her story, her real mother and young brother whom Death takes prematurely. She lives with Rosa and Hans Hubermann’s – her foster parents, she meets Rudy, the boy with the lemon hair, the mayor’s wife and Max, the Jew. These are the people she cares about, then there’s her books. She steals books, that’s her identifier and that’s her love. She learns to read with her Papa and befriends the mayor’s wife  through ordinary stealing from her vast and wondrous library. She is encapsulated in reading stories and then is taught the pleasure of writing; of describing the day in colours, beautiful colours of violent, melon and turquoise. Death, together with Liesel, becomes memorised by colours and the simply pleasure of humans.

I won’t tell you how her story ends, as a fellow reader I wouldn’t deny you that pleasure, however I can tell you that the novel tells the story of war, Jews, oppression, the Third Reich and inevitable death. In the end Death in all its inevitability humbles itself towards the greatness of humans and people whom, like Liesel, Rudy, Huns, Rosa and Max, can survive when there world is striped, burned and dismissed; who survives when even after Death calls them home.

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