January 4, 2009

Book review: The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

This is another book that’s older (originally published in 2005), but I only recently was given a copy of it, and I finished reading it today.  I can unequivocally say that this is one of the most outstanding works of fiction I’ve read in quite some time.  Death narrates the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl who lives in a small town in Nazi Germany during World War II.  Initially illiterate, Liesel impulsively steals a book she finds in the snow at her brother’s funeral.  From there, she begins an obsession with books and words that drives her for most of her life, and leads her to multiple thefts of books, including a particularly daring theft from a book burning.  The use and power of words is one of the central themes of this book, and is particularly appropriate considering how words are used and misused during war; a point poignantly made through the setting of Hitler’s Germany.    Sympathizing with Death, who takes no real pleasure in his task, especially during this time in history, is not necessarily something one would expect, but Zusak has a unique mastery of the language, one that carries the reader from word to word, making the book a pleasure to read.  While it would be easy to dismiss this book as yet another World War II book of historical fiction, the characters and their efforts to live the lives of good, decent people untainted by the evil of the times help to transcend this particular book beyond the genre into a masterwork that will stick with the reader.  The Book Thief is a good reminder that not all Germans were caught by the snares of Hitler, and that many Germans simply tried to do the best they could, sometimes even at risk to themselves, in a time when nothing really made sense.  From Alfred A. Knopf and available at your local, independent bookstore.  (Tell them you saw it on Elephant Journal.com!)

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