“The Book Thief” is a 2005, world renowned, novel by Australian author Markus Zusak. Set between 1939 and 1943 in Nazi Germany, the story follows young girl “Liesel Meminger” who after seeing her brother die in front of her, and being given up by her communist mother, is adopted by the ever loving and kind hearted Hans (Papa), and his vulgar but supportive wife Rosa Hubermann (Mama). Throughout the book, Liesel meets best friend Rudy, as well as a young jewish man called Max, who her and her family harbour. The novel is primarily about Liesel growing up in Nazi Germany during World War 2, and is, shockingly at first, narrated from the perspective of “Death” himself.
This is, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the novel, as the fact that this tale of destruction and pain is being narrated by Death himself intrigues me. This gives the book an extremely unique way of telling a story, as who better to tell a story as bleak and as beautiful at times as this, then Death himself. The story manages to somewhat humanise Death, giving him the persona of someone who is overworked, stating that no one else could do his job, and even at times comes across as depressed, feeling not only saddened by those whose souls he must take but also for there family and loved ones/the ones he left behind. This can be supported in Deaths quotes “I am haunted by humans” and “It kills me sometimes, how people die.”.
The book also doesn’t reveal what Death looked like, which I found to be surprising, I was so used to other stories, especially those that included otherworldly creatures and characters, describing in great detail everything about their creature’s/characters appearance. It was refreshing to see a story that did away with this, leaving Death’s appearance to the reader’s imagination. For example all we know about Death appearance is that he doesn’t carry around a “Sickle or Scythe” this informs me, that Death in the novel doesn’t look like the traditional Grim Reaper, found in a multitude of other novels, tv shows, and films.
The narration by Death is also used to provide more insight into the characters lives as well as the world they inhabit, in a variety of somber, and in some cases, downright sad ways. For example, in the quote “In 1933, 90 percent of Germans showed unflinching support for Adolf Hitler. That leaves 10 percent who didn’t. Hans Hubermann belonged to that ten percent.” Death provides insight into the world both the reader, and Liesel herself, is about to enter. As well as insight into the character of Hans himself. I find this way of giving exposition to the reader much more entertaining then if it had simply been Liesel herself or some other character narrating the novel. When the embodiment of Death himself tells you a story, you know it’s going to be a interesting one.
Another thing I find very interesting about the novel, is it’s ending. After the bombing of Himmel street (an event that was foreshadowed by Death throughout the book) the epilogue reveals that Liesel only died yesterday, after living a full life thinking of her “three children, her grandchildren and the long list of lives that merged with hers” including “Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her brother, and the boy whose hair remained the color of lemons forever” this part shocked me, as though she had seen so much death and destruction in her early life, she still managed to make the best of the future eg starting a family, getting married, living in Australia etc. She wasn’t tied down by the pain of her past. This got me thinking about about my own grandparents, they must of been around the same age Liesel was during WW2. Although not being from Germany, England too was bombed regularly throughout the conflict, especially in the main metropolitan areas. They must of known family, friends etc who died during these raids, and like Liesel they would of had to simply move on after the war ended/continue on with their lives. While we learn so much about the dates of these battles and the men who died in them, we seem to ignore the effects that the fighting had on those that remained after the war, those that simply had to get on with their lives. As Death says himself, the hardest part of his job, the most painful part of his job is seeing “the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise”
Although the book thief started slow, by the end I was hooked. Zusak did an amazing job of crafting a story that felt extremely real, it felt like you really were living on Himmel street at times, growing up in a nazi occupied Germany. Although not the most action packed novel, “the Book Thief” does make up for it in the amount of heart and care that was put into writing it. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys stories that, while not immediately exiting or gripping, pay off in the end.