"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Oh my.... I wasn't sure about this when I started it. A book narrated by Death personified seemed like it might be too far to go but I am humbled and quieted by Zusak's talent, though obviously not speechless...

I have read countless books centered on WWII. I've read fiction and non-fiction, complete photographic accounts, the Rand McNally take on events accompanied by military maps, multiple semesters of U.S. history, European history, and even an entire semester dedicated to the Holocaust itself- carved out from all other components of war and displayed alone so the horror experienced by the Jewish could be felt most acutely by the student. All of that- and more- and I never once stopped to contemplate the effect the war had on the Germans. It never occurred to me that war happens to everyone, even as I've spoken those words. Even as I have watched televised accounts of the families suffering in the 'offending' country, even then- it never really hit me that war happened to those families too.

Until I read this book, this strange fictional account narrated by Death and centered on the life of a German child, I had never stopped to wonder how the typical German family weathered WWII. There were Germans starving. There were Germans hiding Jews. There were Germans saving American pilots from the wrecked carcasses of planes sent to bomb their hometowns. German children were orphaned, adopted out, or not. Hitler's army didn't reserve beatings and whippings for labor camp citizens. They swept through small towns in Germany and gave the same treatment to the citizens they found there. This is no comparison to the suffering endured by death camp prisoners but the foulness of war infiltrated the homes of the 'superior race' too.

Death was a perfect narrator for this story because of course- he is everywhere, a witness to all great suffering. Zusak manages to the tell the story of WWII, the parts of it we have all heard time after time, in a way that causes it strike anew, as if it's the first time you've heard of Dachau or Auschwitz. When you see the picture he is creating for you it's breathtaking- literally- he takes your breath away. War spares no one and neither does Zusak. All are effected and he manages to sweep you up in the greatness and horror that defines humanity and all human acts.


I recently joined a new book club and The Book Thief is the reading choice for this month's meeting. Having already read it (and loved it!) I decided to purchase the audio book this time around. Sometimes I like to compare the different experiences between the audio version and the written copy and with the movie just hitting theaters, this seemed like an excellent opportunity to experience all versions of Zusak's incredible work of art. I was not disappointed. In fact, I was even more entranced. I typically don't re-read. There are so many books on my wish list, I fear I will not live long enough to even come close to reading them all as it is. So even if I really love one, once I know the ending I move on to the next. Experiencing the audio version after reading The Book Thief has me rethinking that policy. The narrator is so perfect and hearing the conversations between the Huberman's or the exchanges between Liesel and Rudy narrated brought the entire cast of characters to life. Zusak's prose affected me before but hearing it brought to life increased the impact exponentially. Like watching a play, I entered the story in a way I didn't when I read it. If you choose to give the audio a try, be prepared to laugh out loud, to cry copiously, and to remind yourself to breathe. Get them both. You won't be sorry.

You will find an official plot line description at:

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