I have a confession to make: I stole books when I was in college. It was something I did with my friend for fun whenever we visit this book warehouse in Cavite¹. When I was a student, I have limited source of money and the temptation in that place was so difficult to ignore. That warehouse was surrounded with books from floor to the ceiling, by the stairs, and even the whole second floor of the area was filled with boxes of books. It was torture for me to leave such good books behind so I stole books (but hey, I bought a book or two every time we visited). This is one of the memories I found myself laughing at whenever I reminisce (also: it was so obvious that my bag was full of books but we were never caught) and I was reminded of this when I saw Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.
Most of my friends have already read this book and claim it is one of the best book they’ve read in their lives. It made me wonder and curious about it because the title has something to do with me: book thievery. But as always, I get distracted by other books and forget about it (also: my copy is hardbound and I kept passing it off because I don’t want to lug around such big book). Anyway, I got the chance to read it because it won the poll for out March 2013 book discussion (even if I voted for A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness).
To be honest, I don’t have any idea what the book is all about, well, except for the fact that it is about book thievery (duh!). I had a high expectation prior reading because of the raves of my friends… So I didn’t read anything about it, even the synopsis at the back of my copy to avoid any spoilers. That’s why it came a surprise to me that the book was during the World War II, and the Holocaust.
It’s a small story really, about, among other things:
* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery
I also find it funny that the narrator is Death—in which I find him a quirky, hilarious, sarcastic, and an ironic one. Far from the Death persona I knew: Death of the Endless from Sandman by Neil Gaiman or the mainstream grim reaper. Also, it’s funny no matter how hard I avoided spoilers while reading the book, of all things, the spoilers came from Death himself.
It’s new to me that Zusak wrote this sensitive topic about WWII and the morbidity of the Holocaust for young readers and I love how he narrated the story in black and white. Not too morbid to scar the young readers for life, but it served as an eye opener (not to me, maybe to them) about the truth about the war and the Holocaust. I find it ironic, too, that I describe the narration as black and white when Death spoke of colors in the story.
What I love the most about the story are the characters. They are flawed but easy to love and understand. When the book thief, Liesel Meminger, arrived at Himmel Street after the death of her brother, she met her foster parents: the potty-mouthed Rosa Hubermann and the accordionist and painter Hans Hubermann. She met a boy with a lemon-colored hair who painted himself black and ran like Jesse Owens named Rudy Steiner. The mayor’s fragile wife Ilsa Hermann. The Jew fist-fighter and was a boy full of stupid gallantry named Max Vadenburg. They left a mark on me because they are different of what I perceived of Germans during the time of war—all of them as evil and inhumane—but they were different. They were not similar of those guys from the Nazi. They have hearts capable of loving (even a Jew!) in spite of being brainwashed to hate. Also, even in the midst of the war, we can still see the beauty of love and relationship among these people.
I was almost in tears when I was near end of the book (I held back my tears because I was reading the book in front of my parents that time. That would be funny and humiliating if I did); it moved and broke me into pieces me when the “time” came. It makes me wonder how a mere 14-year old handle this kind of lost and pain? I found Liesel a very strong person. It’s no joke to lose loved ones as a 10-year old and [spoiler ahead] lose them again for the second time around. It might scar and traumatize Liesel (or any kid) for life but in the end, she survived and learned something from it.
Over all, The Book Thief by Mark Zusak is a great book, it taught me a lot, and it triggered a lot of emotions. Although the plot wasn’t exactly the main point of the book, I found myself looking for more, like something I didn’t read in other books about the Holocaust or something I didn’t know about it (maybe you’ll suggest to read history books, but not that). I was also expecting Death to give us glimpse of events in the gas chambers or the morbidity of the war. Something similar to Art Spiegelman’s The Complete MAUS. Nevertheless, I like the book.
¹ in case you’re wondering, the warehouse is now closed, though the books are still in the building.