You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Book Thief

Markus Zusak's The Book Thief is a mixture of a coming of age story and a gripping tale of survival in Nazi Germany. The approach Zusak takes is innovative: the narrator is Death, who often lets drop details about the characters' fate. The end result is a bit of foreboding with a heightened sense of dramatic tension.

The story starts with Liesel Meminger and her mother traveling on a train. Liesel's young brother dies on the train and is buried. At the grave site Liesel steals her first book, The Gravediggers Handbook. Then her mother leaves her in Molching with a foster family, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, and is never heard from again. Hans is a warm man who teaches Liesel how to read and plays the accordion for her. Rosa's growing love for Liesel shines through her harsh words.

Liesel goes to school and soon graduates from the younger class to be with students her own age. She becomes fast friends with named Rudy who imagines himself the next Jesse Owens. Together they become thieves and steal fruit and other food as part of a gang.

The story deepens when Max, the Jewish son of a man who saved Hans's life in the Great War, comes to them for protection. He stays for many long months, hiding in their basement, nearly starving and coming close to death. Max becomes close friends with Liesel, and they share stories. Max creates a book for her out of painted over pages of Mein Kampf.

Liesel steals her second book at a Nazi book burning. Later, while picking up laundry at the mayor's house, the mayor's wife shows Liesel her secret library. Liesel spends time with her reading forbidden books.

When Hans dares to offer assistance to Jews being marched to a camp, he becomes worried about the danger he has brought onto the family, and Max leaves the house. But instead of increased scrutiny, Hans is accepted into the Nazi party and sent to serve in a fire brigade. Rosa and Liesel struggle to survive without Max's income as a painter or Rosa's laundry income. When the mayor's wife stops laundry service, Liesel starts sneaking into her home to steal books. She eventually realizes that the mayor's wife is letting her steal the books. At the end, it is Liesel's love of books and reading that saves her from death.

Though this book was a little slow in the beginning, it quickly becomes compelling. Liesel's relationships with Rosa and Hans grow into realistic and meaningful family ties. Books become a way of bonding between her and Hans. She uses books to rebel, against the Nazis and the mayor's wife just out of spite. Her friendship with Rudy also grows, yet as they grow closer they never cross the line from friendship to another level.

Death provides a cold and calculating narration, but with insight into the human condition. He often laments the hard work he does during the war.

This story is an interesting look at life in Nazi Germany from the point of view of a family who suffers under the Third Reich and tries to help a friend as well as survive. Liesel acts bravely to protect and help her friends. She grows up as she deals with death and love. A-


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