Text Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Text Type: Novel
Date Finished: 8th of May
“Heil Hitler” this would have been booming through the streets of Germany for over 10 years, including Himmel Street in Molching where a little girl Liesel Meminger was living an extraordinary life.
The Book Thief was written by Australian author Markus Zusak in August 2004 and was published in 2005. His mother was German, and father Austrian, so as he got older they told him stories about their childhood in Europe, and he is quoted as saying in an interview that “It was like a piece of Europe coming into our house. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those stories led me to my writing. My parents were teaching me how to write, just by the way they related their stories.” Depending on his parent’s stance on the Nazi Party and Germany during that time, their stories could have influenced the way he wrote this book, which would have led to writer bias.
The Book Thief focuses on a young girl called Liesel Meminger who was orphaned with her brother but unfortunately her brother died at the train station. During this traumatic time, Liesel picks up a book titled as the “Gravediggers Handbook” although she cannot read it yet it stays with her throughout the book; almost like death chasing her where ever she goes. The Book Thief then follows Liesel’s life with her new foster family, and how she adapts to living in such a hostile Nazi Germany country; even though she is a loving young girl. The book explores her trials and tribulations on Himmel Street and how her relationships develop with the other kids, but most importantly it follows her improvement in reading and writing skills and how it brings so much happiness into her life, even in the darkest of times.
The Book Thief has many different aspects that interest me, but one that stood out to me was the theme of love and how it was portrayed throughout the book and through the different characters and objects. Without the theme of love, there would be no plot progression which would leave the book stale and boring; the author Markus Zusak had this to say when asked about what the Book Thief is about, “It centres on Liesel and is kind of a love story with Liesel in the middle and everything else revolving around her.” Growing up Zusak might have had someone in his life that is similar to Liesel or in a story told from his parents a character might have given him inspiration for her, as her story seems so real.
The idea and theme of love is portrayed through many different characters in the book, for example, Liesel’s love for books, Max, and her foster-father Hans, Rudy’s love for Liesel, and Hans love for Liesel as well as music. One of the strongest and most heart-wrenching moments in the book is when the Nazi guards are marching Jewish prisoners through Molching and one of them collapses. All the locals see this and don’t do anything to help the poor man on the ground as he is Jewish, but Hans Hubberman is different; he does not have a bad bone in his body, “The Jew stood before him, expecting another handful of derision, but he watched with everyone else as Hans Hubermann held his hand out and presented a piece of bread, like magic. When it changed hands, the Jew slid down. He fell to his knees and held Papa’s shins. He buried his face between them and thanked him.” The resulting consequences for Hans are rough as he is whipped by the Nazi guards and is labelled a Jew lover throughout his town. Hans is an important person and role model in the life of Liesel and this act of kindness shows her that love has no boundaries and that she should respect and be kind to all types of people. This reinforces Hans character as a caring and loving person which causes the reader to become more emotionally connected with the character. I can relate to Hans gesture personally as when I was skiing at Cardrona a less able skier fell over and struggled to get back to his feet; everyone skied past and didn’t take notice of the boy. When I went past I helped him up, that simple gesture and act of kindness made both of our days better.
Another instance of love in the Book Thief is the bond between Max and Liesel. When Max comes into Liesel’s life he somewhat fills the gap in Liesel’s heart that was created when her brother passed away. The two connect through books, words, and helping each other understand and move on from the past which haunts them both. When Max becomes sick and does not wake up, Liesel continues to read to him at his bedside, as well as bringing him a total of thirteen presents each with different stories in the hope that she can tell him about them when he wakes up. After Hans Hubberman’s bread incident with the marching jew, Max realizes that the Nazi’s might come looking in the house; rather than being selfish and staying in the basement he decides to leave, “At just after 11 p.m. that same night, Max Vandenburg walked up Himmel Street with a suitcase full of food and warm clothes. German air was in his lungs. The yellow stars were on fire. When he made it to Frau Diller’s, he looked back one last time to number thirty-three.” He would rather see Liesel be safe than put her in danger. Just over a month after WW2 officially ended, Max returned to Himmel Street and visited Alex Steiner’s shop where Liesel was usually found, “He approached the counter. “Is there someone here by the name of Liesel Meminger?” “Yes, she’s in the back,” said Alex. He was hopeful, but he wanted to be sure. “May I ask who is calling on her?” Liesel came out. They hugged and cried and fell to the floor.” Over time in the book, their love and relationship became so strong that they considered each other family. As a reader I’m surprised that Liesel gravitated towards Max like she did, as at school and as well as the Nazi Youth groups, hatred for Jews would have been drilled into her; although she cares for Max and this became even more obvious when he became sick and during the air raid. Personally, I can relate to the love and relationship between Max and Liesel, but I have not had an experience so far in my life where I didn’t think I would ever see someone again.
Another aspect of the text that interested me was the Character of Rudy and his relationship with Liesel. Rudy was my favourite character in the book, his charisma, loyalty, caring soul, and persistence to get a kiss out of Liesel all drew me to him; I can also relate to his physical appearance as I have blonde hair and blue eyes like him. At school, he is a bright student but also outside of school he loves football and athletics; on top of this he befriends Liesel and they decide to join a group of older kids and steal things, eventually, they start to do this by themselves without the older kids. Rudy’s talents in and outside of the classroom are as much a curse as a blessing, the Nazis are scouting Germany for exceptional kids who perform academically and athletically for a special school which enhance the elite to become ultimate human beings. Rudy’s parents don’t want him to end up dead after the school, so for him not to go his father Alex was conscripted into the army. After Rudy’s father leaves for the army he continues to live a fun-filled life with Liesel which gets them into all kinds of mischief. Sadly his life is cut short at the young age of fourteen in a bombing in Molching which killed most of Himmel Street. The reader never really knows the truth about Rudy and Liesel’s relationship, we know Rudy was invested in Liesel in a romantic way from his classic line of “How about a kiss, Saumensch?” but we are unsure if Liesel felt this way for Rudy. Throughout the book, Rudy would do things to impress Liesel in the hope that a kiss from her would be the reward at the end one of these acts is when he rescues her book, “A book floated down the Amper River. A boy jumped in, caught up to it, and held it in his right hand. He grinned. He stood waist-deep in the icy, Decemberish water. “How about a kiss, Saumensch?” he said.” Rudy most likely did this as he wouldn’t want to see Liesel be upset since she was his best friend, but he also hoped he might get a reward for himself at the end. Unfortunately, Rudy never got the kiss he deserved; after he had died during the bombing Liesel found his dead body and planted a kiss on him. I like to imagine that as death collected Rudy’s soul, a smile would have crept across the young boys face truly knowing that the girl of his dreams actually loved him.
The Book Thief is a well-constructed book that is entertaining throughout and had me wanting to read more. The plot is interesting which kept me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t wait to turn the page every time; the constant change of adventures and characters keeps the plot fresh and enjoyable. I would recommend this book to anyone over the age 15 as anyone younger would not be able to fully comprehend the book as a whole, and specific messages that Markus Zusak was trying to convey. Having knowledge of what happened in Nazi Germany prior and during the Second World War would also help the understanding of events and places that are mentioned.
Reading the book and writing this report, I had little to none bias. Growing up in a country that is part of the Commonwealth we learn that Hitler was truly evil, so before reading the book I had that preconceived idea. Even so, I don’t believe that this affected my judgement while reading the book, and my personal responses to certain aspects after finishing it.
To conclude, the Book Thief is an amazing book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and believe that most people should read this book sometime in their life.