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The Book Thief Book by Markus Zusak

Click Here to Download the Book A New York Times bestseller for seven years running that's soon to be a major motion picture, this Printz Honor book by the author of I Am the Messenger is an unforgettable tale about the ability of books to feed the soul. Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist– books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.


Bravo Zusak! A standing ovation, a mighty opus. You stood Death on her head, removing her dark cloak and scythe, clothing her with feeling and letting us see she has eyes to see and a heart to feel, and the intellect to narrate a compelling story. I was so glad to find out she has a womb. Out of Death comes Life. She has greater aplomb than Nick in telling about Gatsby. In the spring of 1968 at age 19, I made my way to Dachau. I lived just south of Munich and the visit to the defunct concentration camp had a haunting effect upon me that will last until Death comes for me and, I believe, beyond (but eternity’s yet another subject; this story was about life.) I went back to Dachau several times, the souls of the living and the dead calling me. As I worked among Germans in nearby Munich, I was surprised to encounter Jews still, or perhaps again, making their home there, so close to Dachau, so soon after Hitler and his henchmen. These early experiences furnished my life with both angst and vision: with angst to recognize the potential for evil within ever human being and with vision to see the possibility for courage and compassion, to pick up a piece of bread to feed a cipher. And that’s a big part of what The Book Thief does for me: it captures and again reminds me of these viabilities as they play out near Dachau in the heart of World War II’s Nazi Germany in the lives of Liesel and her contemporaries, alive and dead. Death tells Liesel’s tragic yet wonderful, story in order to keep memory alive. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.” And surely this is Liesel’s story, not Death’s just as Gatsby's isn’t Nick’s. To remind us to stand up wherever tyranny and power put people down. Zusak took the time and effort to invest the narrative with near perfect words, and wonderful sentences, and great paragraphs, and superb chapters. It would have been too cruel and ironic if the “book thief” had found herself betrayed by the words, sentences, and paragraphs of her story’s teller. Flesh fully clothes each character; conflict, action, and suspense oblige the attention of each reader; and the themes are true consistent throughout, start to finish, and the setting is hauntingly perfect. I hope because of this book I am closer to bending over and picking up some bread to give to a cipher, even if it puts us both at Death’s door.

Occasionally, you will read a novel that offers you new ideas about what a novel can actually do, how point of view and voice can be used differently but powerfully, and how characters can be developed to such an extent that they seem more human than those we come into contact with each day. This seems to be the case with Markus Zusak's 2005 novel, The Book Thief. I first read it on a recommendation from a librarian friend, and now find myself talking about it at great length to anyone who will listen (if you listen closely, you can hear my students start to groan...until they start reading it, that is). With any luck, I'll get it on my reading list at the school I teach at by next year. It's that kind of good. The novel centers around the experiences of a young girl in World War II-era Germany. Contrary to my initial prediction, the girl, Liesel, is not Jewish but instead the orphaned daughter of two communist parents who were ostensibly murdered when finally caught by the Nazis. In any event, they never appear, which becomes painfully obvious during one particularly heartwrenching episode. Liesel spends most of the novel in the home of two poor but well-meaning foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who are patriotic enough not to be arrested, but dissenting enough that Hans has been refused admission to the Nazi party. Thus, through Liesel and the Hubermanns, we get a point of view of Nazi Germany to which we're not readily accustomed: not of the depraved and defiled victims of the Holocaust, nor of the gung-ho fundamentalist "Heil-Hiterl!"ing-every-fiveseconds Nazis; but instead of those we rarely if ever hear from, those caught in the uncomfortable and inescapable middle.

Wow...just wow! I don't think I can even begin to articulate the impact this book had on me. It was the most incredible book I think I have ever read. If you've read The Diary of Anne Frank, then you have an idea of what a little Jewish girl and her family experienced during WWII. But have you ever wondered about the other side of the coin? What did little German girls experience during WWII? Were they all just good little Nazi soldiers, intent on eradicating those of the Jewish faith? The book is narrated by Death, which was a little odd at first, but after only a couple of pages, it made perfect sense and was easy to follow along. It is the tale of one little German girl, her family, friends, enemies, and their struggles, triumphs, and deep secrets that they kept during the war. It gave me pause because I had never bothered to consider what life may have been like for the non-military Germans or what life may have been like in a country that poured all of their resources into the military. It was certainly eye-opening for me! I strongly recommend this book and would give it way more than 5 stars if possible.

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