Book Review: "The Book Thief"

I cried harder last night than I have in months, and definitely harder than I have ever cried because of a book.

This one was called "The Book Thief," and it took me nearly a month to read it after first checking it out from Van Belkum Branch Library.

It wasn't because the book wasn't a page-turner. It was. It wasn't because it was 550 pages. Although it was.

The reason it took me almost a month was because it was filled with suffering and pain, and I had to keep putting it down and coming back to it later, when I knew I'd be ready for it again.

The story was like none I've ever read before. It was about a girl named Liesel Meminger who lived in Nazi Germany in the middle of World War II.

Instead of a tale told from the perspective of the Jews, like so many other WWII books, such as "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl," "The Hiding Place," and "The Devil's Arithmetic," author Markus Zusak hands us a story from the point of view of Germans living under the terrifying rule of "the Fuhrer," as they called Hitler. We see and feel the constant terror running through German souls -- the things they had to do, the price for hiding Jews, and the way Hitler wielded words in his quest to rule the world.

**Such a powerful, sobering thought that was for me, a writer, an editor — someone whose daily life and breath is the food of words. Someone whose existence is intertwined with paragraphs and sentences. To think of the misuse of words, to me, is terrifying.**


The part that stunned me about this book is that the story itself was fictional, with the exception of its historical context, and yet I found myself wrapped up in Liesel Meminger's life, fascinated by her foster parents' odd ways of showing love, drawn to her best friend and hero, Rudy Steiner, heartbroken by the sorrow of the Jew they hid, Max Vandenburg, whose friendship to Liesel follows her throughout life, and sympathetic to Liesel's hunger for books, a pull that draws her into thievery and brings her face-to-face with Death three times.

For this book is narrated by Death himself. He sees human souls as colors and takes a sick pleasure in that which will shock, appall and disturb.

And yet, despite that, I couldn't help but sympathize with him, in the sense that it was clear he loathed his job and carried it out of a sense of fateful inevitability, knowing that nothing could stop the ebbing away of souls during that war. He carried each one lightly, respectfully, even on days when his task list numbered in the thousands.

I was angry at him for telling me ahead of time what would happen to each character. Angry when he revealed before it happened the specific manner of each person's death.

And yet, being prepared for their deaths in advance, and by extension the heartbreak they would cause Liesel, did nothing to soften the blow to my heart when they actually occurred.

"Why? Why?" I asked myself What made this book so difficult to read?

Part of it must have been because I knew that although Liesel and Rudy were merely products of Zusak's imagination, there were so many in 1943 with stories just like theirs that weren't fictional.

People really did follow Hitler in hypnotized, numb terror. And those who tried to resist met with suffering and death.

People died alone. They died not knowing hope. They landed in unmarked graves — whole families at once, so many that it's likely some families trees were obliterated — with no one left alive today who even knows or remembers they existed.

I don't want to forget that. I don't want to watch the ones around me die without hope like they did.

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Pam Elmore said...

Wow. Powerful words, and a compelling review.

But I think I might wait a bit to read this one...

Rachel E. Watson said...

Yeah, that's probably smart with everything you're diving into right now. You don't need this kind of additional heaviness.

Leah Randelle said...

I may have to pick this one up.

Rachel E. Watson said...

:) You should! It's a good read.