Friday, May 7, 2010

The Book Thief

Writing fiction about the Holocaust is a difficult task. Most young adults learn about this time period in history class, through films like Schindler's List, or nonfiction works like The Diary of Anne Frank. Markus Zusak chose to write about the Holocaust from a different perspective, following the experiences of German civilians as opposed to camp survivors.

The story is narrated by Death itself, who is horrified by the sheer brutality of World War II and who is sympathetic to mankind. During this ugly time, Death remembers the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster child who was abandoned by her father and whose mother was forced to give her up for adoption. Liesel and her brother have been sent to live in a new city, but her brother dies during the trip. Liesel barely has time to grieve for her lost family when she is thrown into life in a new town, under Hitler's regime. To cope with the drastic changes in her life, Liesel begins stealing books even though she does not know how to read, to remind her of significant events in her life. The story follows Liesel as she and those around her are forced to make difficult decisions in order to survive a war they are morally opposed to.

The Book Thief was originally written as an adult novel, but it has been marketed to young adults in the United States. The story was brilliantly written and shows a fascinating contrast between the beauty and brutality of humanity. The horrors of war are discussed throughout the story and death surrounds Liesel at every turn. At the same time, some of the Germans we read about in this story do not blindly follow Hitler in their thoughts and beliefs and, despite their poor circumstances, they are able to find pleasure in simple reading a book. Zusak's unique perspective helps to humanize the choices that ordinary people had to make in the face of the Fuhrer. I enjoyed reading this novel and would recommend it to all readers who are prepared for mature themes and content.

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