Death Takes a Book: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Is reviewing a book halfway liken to being a smitten fool? Like most smitten proclamations, this is my first time. I have never been quite so taken by a book that I wholeheartedly trusted that a good ending was waiting for me based on the sheer brilliance of the writing. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is narrated by the omnipresent and illuminating commentary of Death set to a backdrop of Nazi Germany. In this story, Death is not remorseful. Death is not exacting or vengeful. Death is here to tell the tale of a young girl named Liesel Meminger. After her brother’s traumatic death, Liesel is escorted by her mother to a foster home on the ironically named Himmel Street in Molching, Germany. Himmel means Heaven. Although Himmel Street is far from heavenly, offering only beratings from her dour foster mother and a constant heaping of split pea soup, it is here that she begins to find solace in books. After a bout of nightmares, Liesel is consoled by her newly adopted Papa which leads to a bond between the two and introduces Liesel to the vorboten world of words. Papa is Hans Hubermann-a jovial accordion player, mustachioed and warm with more wit than money. Papa teaches Liesel how to read through her first stolen book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook. So begins Liesel’s fascination with books leading to a life of stealing and stolen moments. Thievery is not evil. It is an escape from Liesel’s hardsrabbled existence manifesting as criminally sweet tastes of candy, apples and learning.
Although Nazi Germany looms as large as any bully that Liesel encounters on Himmel Street, it does not dominate the story or eclipse the frail heroics of Liesel’s genuine stoicism. A bonfire in the town square is held in honor of the Führer’s birthday however its politics pale against Liesel’s heartful and illicit determination to savalage a banned and burning book from the embers. The Book Thief is shadowed by silent atrocities however it is the transformative power of books and relationships that shine leaving both Death and humans in awe of humanity. “So much good, so much evil. Just add water”.