Thursday, 29 October 2009

Reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

One book I'm enjoying at the moment is The Book Thief - a rich, warm but at times uncomfortable novel about the life of a girl Liesel and how she lives through many adventures in Nazi Germany, suffering after her mother leaves her and her brother dies, growing up with a new family, fighting, living in poverty, having to march along with the Hitler Youth, learning how to read and steal and keep secrets from the Fuhrer.

Although it has taken me some pages to get into it, I am now appreciating how it works on lots of levels. The book is told from the point of view of Death, which is ominous, but this version of Death is almost child-like in his curiousity. Like the children in the book, Death is uncomprehending of the true import of some of the episodes in the book. But we well know the barbarities of the time.

At other times Death is very perceptive and shows he does know the world, having walked its paths and seen how people have acted. It makes you see how bizarre and painful the Jewish persecutions were, coming from men and women who used to live next door to Jews, speak with them, visit their businesses. And Zusak is keen to show the great levellers - our interest in one another, our personality, our appreciation of art and music, the things that go beyond mere tribe or race to the very heart of man, woman and child.

All this makes the book one which is eager to explore good and evil, where men and women are detailed with strange but likeable characteristics and stubborn, wilful natures. The potential to be destructive is there right on the edge of the characters - and their anger, as it develops, is an excellent way to express the outrage we all feel at the way people were treated and killed by Nazis. (There is definitely some similarity with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, especially in Liesel's relationship with her "papa" Hans, who is upright and wise like Atticus Finch - although The Book Thief is more focused on private struggles and the effects of trauma on a young girl, and on Death as well.)

Here is an interview with the author about the book - he refers to humanity being part "pure beauty" and part "pure destruction" - a pretty astute observation. I think the Bible (and so God) would agree with that.

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