Thursday, February 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Bad Things Don't Always Spoil the Good - Review of "The Book Thief"

Throwback Thursday makes a triumphant return after a (unintentional) five-month hiatus! For those who missed it (probably a lot of you), I used to have a blog I used solely for reviewing books. But then I started doing more with this blog and decided to consolidate them both. I didn't want to lose all the work I'd done on cj's bookshelf, so I'm slowly migrating them over here. I started last year, but got distracted and kept forgetting to do it. But it's back for your enjoyment!

**Originally posted on cj's bookshelf on June 17, 2011**

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 2005
Reading Level: Age 14 and up

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

My Review:

Oh, "The Book Thief" - you wonderful, wonderful piece of writing you.

This book first came to my attention through the Mark Reads blog.  All I knew was that it was set in Nazi Germany and there was a girl who stole books.  How the two connected, I hadn't the foggiest idea.  But the themes connected in one of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen.

So many of the stories about the Holocaust and World War II and Nazi Germany focus on the horrible things human beings are capable of doing to other human beings and "The Book Thief" is no exception.  But what this book does so magnificently is telling the story of Germans who - surprise! - didn't actually buy into the Nazi propaganda.  In fact, there were plenty of Germans who were just trying to take care of their families and follow the rules and do what they thought was right.

The best thing about this story is Liesel Meminger, the titular book thief who finds joy and solace in the books she "steals" from various places (though one of those places is the mayor's wife's library - and the mayor's wife purposely leaves the door open for Liesel).  She is just a little girl who plays with her friends and gets into mischief - just like any other kid in any other time period, but her experiences are set up against the backdrop of Nazi Germany.  Her childhood is peppered with flashbacks of her foster father's experience in World War I, scenes of Death (the narrator) picking up souls killed in the war and scenes of the people in Liesel's neighborhood taking cover in a basement during bombings.

My favorite chapter is when Max Vandenburg - a Jewish man Liesel's family is hiding - illustrates a story as a gift to Liesel to thank her for her kindness.  I don't want to go into details about Max's story because it is so lovely and wonderful, but the whole chapter was a brilliant depiction of the story as a whole.

This entire story is an exceptional tale of the very worst of humanity sitting right next to the best of humanity.  It takes all the black and white morality in storytelling and sits it on the bench and lets the grays of real people shine through.  Nothing is ever straightforward, as much as we try to make things good and right.  But that doesn't mean you stop trying to live a good and moral life the best way you know how.

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