Monday, April 7, 2014

The Book Thief - by Markus Zusak

There is some irony in the fact that my library's copy of The Book Thief has been overdue since December. I strongly suspect it is not coming back - at least not any time soon. I had put myself on the waiting list for the book before Christmas, but after the book failed to be returned in any kind of a timely fashion, I got a message that my "hold" request had expired. I ended up buying a copy for my iPad, which turned out to be pretty cheap. I think it was under $5.

It is, of course, right and good to read a book before you see the movie upon which it is based. The Book Thief movie came out in theaters in November, but I did not see it, having not yet read the novel. The movie will be released on Netflix tomorrow, which I do look forward to seeing, now that I have done my due diligence.

This is the story of a girl named Liesel. Liesel lives in Germany, under the Nazi regime, with her foster parents and a Jew (Max) who lives under the basement staircase. Liesel is the eponymous "book thief". Her first theft being almost an accident, the rest were rather deliberate. Her second theft came during one of the Nazi book burnings
The Germans loved to burn things. Shops, synagogues, Reichstags, houses, personal items, slain people, and of course books. They enjoyed a good book burning, all right - which gave people who were partial to books the opportunity to get their hands on certain publications that they otherwise wouldn't have. 
Most of the rest of the thefts are from the personal library of the mayor's wife, Ilsa Hermann. But once the Frau Hermann figured out what was happening, she played along by leaving books out, and making it easy for Liesel to enter her home to browse the shelves.

The importance of books to Liesel is evident to all. Her foster father, "Papa", teaches her to read and write and then, knowing how much the printed word means to his young charge threatens to burn all her books if she tells the family secret - the one literally hidden away in the basement. Max knows how much the books means to her when he writes a book for her using pages from Mein Kampf that he paints over to make fresh writing surfaces.

The books Liesel steals become not only her salvation, but the salvation of others as well. When those in her neighborhood were sent to bomb shelters with only their most important possessions in tow, Liesel took a book, and read to everyone.
For at least twenty minutes, she handed out the story. The youngest kids were soothed by her voice, and everyone else saw visions of the whistler running from the crime scene. Liesel did not. The book thief saw only the mechanics of the words - their bodies stranded on the paper, beaten down for her to walk on. Somewhere, too, in the gaps between a period and the next capital letter, there was also Max. She remembered reading to him when he was sick. Is he in the basement? she wondered. Or is he stealing a glimpse of the sky again.

Ultimately, it is a book that literally saves Liesel's life. Hidden in the basement, where Max once stayed, she is reading the book he left for her when her town is leveled.

Only one person survived.
She survived because she was sitting in a basement reading through the story of her own life, checking for mistakes...The shells of wreckage cantered down, and hours later, when the strange, unkempt silence settled itself on Molching, the local LSE  could hear something. An echo. Down there, somewhere, a girl was hammering a paint can with a pencil...
She was still clutching the book.
She was holding desperately on to the words who had saved her life.
I notice upon a second reading of this passage that the author chose the word "who" rather than "which" in this last sentence, giving an anthropomorphic quality to the book. It was the book "who" saved her, as much as the soldiers who removed the rock to release her.

No comments:

Post a Comment