Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Markus Zusak's Book Thief

When Maryellen and I heard Mr. Zusak speak at an ALA tea, we knew there was something special about this young man. He was - I'm not quite sure how to describe it - wise beyond his years maybe? I had not read about his book, published for adults in his native Australia, but for some reason, being marketed to young adults here in the states. Not that I don't think teens should read and appreciate The Book Thief, because I certainly do. Still, this book is so sophisticated, the writing so compelling, that adults may well miss out on a great read because of the library's decision to classify it for young adults.

Taking my library director's recommendation, I downloaded this to my mp3 so that I could hear actor Allan Corduner's brilliant performance as the narrator, a sardonic, witty Death with a capital "D." As you can imagine, Death is terribly busy in pre-WW II Germany. Hitler is making his run up to his vision of a perfect Aryan race and the mood is somber as people like Liesel's parents, branded as Communists, begin to quietly disappear. Death takes a particular interest in the 10 year old Liesel when he observes her clandestinely rescuing a book from the snow after her little brother's funeral. This book, The Gravedigger's Handbook, will change and possibly even save Liesel's life.

The Book Thief speaks to me on so many different levels. I don't want it to end yet I fear the ending too. There is no other time in history that draws me as much as the '40's do. My friend Don constantly marvels at how someone with such a sunny disposition as mine can be so fascinated by the darker side of humanity. I have no explanation. Perhaps acknowledging the worst in society puts the heros on an even higher pedestal? I only know that I feel such dread as Kristalnacht comes, bonfires of books burn in the streets of Molching outside of Munich, children are forced to join the Hitler Youth Brigade with no understanding of the hate they spew. Addresses of "Heil Hitler" are analyzed and interpreted for their sincerity.

Into this historical maelstrom comes Max, a Jewish refugee temporarily protected from suspicion by carrying with him and reading a copy of Mein Kampf. On Himmel St. (an ironic use of the German word for Heaven?) in Molching, Liesel's foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, open the door to Max, fulfilling a promise made years before and setting in motion a chain of events which will forever inform their lives and that of their beloved Liesel.

I just cannot say enough about this book and the thoughts it's engendered. Whenever I read about the Holocaust I wonder if, and hope that, I would have had the courage to stand against the evil in some small way. I think about the other races and cultures that have faced similar systematic persecution. Our own Native American population and the African Americans who relied on the genius of the Underground Railroad to reach some semblance of freedom in the North and Canada. Then I look around at the anti-Muslim sentiment in our country since 9/11 and worry about which group will be next. But, just maybe, by reading fiction like The Book Thief, our young people will be inspired to change the frightening path we're on.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sally,
I listened to the book a few weeks ago and was awed by it. Zusak did a great job. So glad we got to hear him at ALA, otherwise I might have missed it. I, too, am fascinated by WWII and you know I love my thrillers! I'm thinking of doing The Book Thief" as a book discussion early next year.
AKA Toomanybooks!

Sallyb said...

Hi Maryellen,
I was talking to Tina this morning about moving one of our copies to the adult section so that it could get more usage. She suggested that it would be a GREAT title for One Book/One Community next year and she is planning on nominating it. Maybe we can show the county that we do have taste after all!

Anonymous said...

Amen to that!