Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak + Contest!

First published in 2005.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.
(book back blurb)

Nothing says Merry Christmas like having your heart torn out and stomped on by some red and black-wearing pus hole. You know, for whatever reason, I don't know why, I'm irrevocably drawn to books taking place during World War II, more specifically the European Theater and many times, the Jewish plight and what they went through. I spent a semester researching concentration camps for a paper for a class called Jewish Literature. Talk about depression. And I mean verifiable. Do you now they found 3 tons of human hair at Auschwitz when it was liberated? 3 tons. 6,000 pounds. Can you even imagine how much, visually, that is? And Dachau is a constant presence in this book as the town, Molching (Mol-king) is a walk (they don't say how far but far enough for the starving Jews they march through the town) down the street. Close enough to smell, that's for sure.

But this book offers a different perspective. Liesel is the daughter of a Communist, or a suspected Communist, that's sent away to live with some foster parents because her mother is being taken away. Her brother was supposed to go with her but he didn't survive the trip, however he does make a posthumous appearance a couple of times in order to guide Liesel on her way. It's in this foster home that Liesel grows up a good blonde German, except she has brown eyes. She's halfway to Aryan but if push came to shove, it wouldn't be enough.

Her Mama (foster mother) is a bulldozer but her Papa (also foster) is the loving, caring, consoling parent in her life. He's the father she never had and offers her the helping hand that she never had. The boy next door, Rudy, becomes her best friend but she loses him all too quickly. And her family too. For a girl so young she certainly loses so much. But in the end she gains back something so intensely important to her that it could rightly heal the wounds that have been torn in her psyche for years. It's because of this regained entity that she ends up surviving, after all. She owes so much.

What I liked most was how the third person omniscient narrator was Death. And he isn't some dude in a black robe swinging a scythe. Or so he says. But it offers such an amazing and clear perspective of what's going on not only with Liesel but all around her that it just sucks you in. All of these World War II stories are about how death affects life. Well how about how life affects Death? He is, after all, haunted by humans. And he tells a damn good story too, that's for sure. And he's not subtle either. When he alludes to something, it's very blatant but it doesn't ruin anything. It just prepares you for what's coming.

Even for its length, even for how long it took me to read it (longer than normal, a little more than a week), I didn't want to put it down. The story builds up at the end to the prologue at the beginning and you can't help but want to know what happens in between to get to that point. What's the deal with the Jesse Owens incident? What's with the kiss? What is with Liesel's compulsive kleptomania?

The Nazi stronghold isn't the dominating force of this story but it fuels it. Liesel is where she is because of the Nazis. She becomes the person that she does because of the Nazis. She writes because of the Nazis. Without them, would Death have even taken an interest in her? Would he even want to tell her story? Would she even have a story without the Nazis?

And, again, it's a damn good story. It's coming of age in Hell. True to form Hell. Where the wrong eye color can get you kidnapped. Where reading can get you in a camp. Where not joining the right (or, well, Reich) party can get you shipped off to die. Where you lose everything that you've ever loved, even, at times, the words that held you together. Teens today think they have it tough. Right.

If you like stories set during World War II, if you want to read about a girl with such strength and emotion that it'll tear your heart out, if you want a good cry, read this book. It certainly won't disappoint.

Contest Time!!!

Fill out the form below for your chance to win my copy of The Book Thief! Contest ends 1/12 at midnight, EST. Open to US residents only. Good luck!


Adriana said...

I thought your review was amazing. I definitely have to read this book now.

Julie said...

Your review was amazing and now I'm dying to get this book!

Bianca said...

Loved the review.
Been wanting to read this for a while now!

Wrighty said...

Terrific review! I started this book once from the library and didn't have the time to read much of it. I've been meaning to get it again because I've really been looking forward to it and can't wait to just read.

This is such a horrifying topic but the stories are so important. The information you mentioned about the 3 tons of hair is disgusting and evil. It's hard to believe some people really think none of that ever happened.

Thanks for your offer and your review!

in which a girl reads said...

Awesome review!

The Book Thief may the my favorite book ever--it's definitely up there. What sets this book apart from everything else is the beautiful writing. Markus Zusak is a genius.

I'm crazy in love with this book :)

brizmus said...

What an amazing review! It's always so weird when I am LOVING a book and yet for some reason can't seem to finish it. Coming of Age in hell- just wow. I NEED to read this book!

Donna (Bites) said...

Thank you! It really is an excellent book.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading this book right now. I've actually been reading it for months, but I just can't get in the mood for such an emotional story. I still think it's a good book though. :P

YA Book Queen said...

Awesome review! I've always been curious about this book, but never actually read it. Glad to know it's great! :)

kalea_kane said...

Absolutely wonderful review. I have been waiting on this one for a while.

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