Good Reading : October 2017
Ifirst encountered The Book Thief, Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel set in Ger many in World War II, in my Year 10 English class. After a tiresome term of reciting Macbeth soliloquies, this story felt like water on parched lips. It also crept up on me. What began as a slow yet thought-provoking read soon turned into several sleepless nights of tearing through pages. I was curled up in bed, sometime after 1 am, my face blotchy red and wet with tears as I read the final chapters. By the time I reached that agonising last sentence, I was gasping. It was the best book I had ever read. While that distinction has shifted back and forth in the years since, this story about ‘a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter and quite a lot of thievery’ remains one of my all-time favourites. Ten-year-old Liesel Meminger is sent to live in the small, fictional German town of Molching with her new foster family, just before the outbreak of World War II. Before she reaches Molching, Liesel steals her first book from the graveside of her little brother. This small act of larceny sets Liesel on her path as the book thief of the title. Stealing books – and reading them – becomes a necessary means for Liesel to escape from the hardships of World War II and even rebel against the cruelty of the Nazi regime. Liesel’s story is told by the most unlikely narrator – a personification of Death. But the Death that Zusak conjures up isn’t the typical scythe-wielding grim reaper. With his dry humour and witty digressions, he is a rather likeable character, who, in a different set of circumstances, is someone I wouldn’t mind meeting. His exhausting occupation, his need for a vacation and his constant attempts to try to understand human nature all make him highly relatable. In addition to Death, the novel is filled with a cast of characters who you will come to love. Foul-mouthed Rosa Hubermann is quick to beat Liesel with her wooden spoon, yet she actually cares more than most people would think. And Rudy Steiner, the yellow-haired Aryan boy who worships Jesse Owens, the African Amer ican Olympic athlete. Zusak goes to great lengths to celebrate the flaws as well as the strengths of his characters; neither good nor evil, they are simply human beings. The novel gives a detailed and accurate portrayal of what life was like in a small German town in the thick of World War II as it explores the universal themes of death and the power of words and literature, especially as a means of escape or a distraction from a distressing reality. The book is marketed to a young adult readership, but its appeal and relevance extends far beyond the YA category. Whether you are young or old there is something in this book for you. It’s the kind of book that asks questions you don’t know how to answer. It will cause you to laugh and bring you to tears. It will fill you with hope. Everyone should read The Book Thief. It will haunt you long after you’ve put it back on your bookshelf. GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING OCTOBER 2017 20 SHELF LIFE MEETING WITH THE BOOK THIEF When she was 16, JASMINE AIRD read MARKUS ZUSAK’s The Book Thief for the first time. She recounts the impact it made on her.