“Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness.” — Markus Zusak
This book is strange. I don’t have a better word for it, which is ironic since this book centers around a girl learning about words – she is the Book Thief or Leisel.
The book is set during World War II and is based around a young girl growing up in Germany during Hitler’s reign. The book is an interesting way for people to look into the lives of people, especially young children, during that time and how it affected them. The only catch? The narrator of the book is ‘Death’ or ‘The Grim Reaper’ or any other name you can give the one who collects souls after people die. One of the interesting aspects that ‘Death’ being the narrator offers is that you get to experience the emotions of all the characters from a Third-Person perspective; however, this style of writing can be a bit confusing at first since we, as readers, are used to seeing everything from one person’s perspective.
Even with the odd narration, the book does offer some insight as to how it felt as children to not quite understand what was going on in that time and see how the people of that time and place had to deal with the situation.
Here’s where things got a little strange for me. There are a lot of important relationships that are made in the book and interesting characters, but I felt as though the book went nowhere. There were plenty of lessons to be learned from those relationships and, after learning about them and understanding them, there was no lesson. Here’s some examples:
1. She is abandoned by her mother and the girl writes her letters only to find out that her mom will never get them. We’re not told why or where the mother is. It’s just left at that.
2. She figures out, much slower than he does, that she is in love with the neighbor boy. You see their relationship grow and develop over the course of the book just for it to end the same as the others.
3. Her adoptive mother, or Mama, is verbally abusive but Leisel learns how to deal with it and even use it in some situations, but the mother never seems to return the love.
4. Her adoptive father, or Papa, becomes the person she cares about the most and we can see why throughout the story but the way it ends offers no lesson to be learned either.
5. Max is the Jew that the family is hiding in their basement for a short time and you can see that Leisel learns to care for him. And one day, he leaves to avoid detection. We see him come back at the end of the book but not a lot of detail about the lesson that could have easily been applied here – we should love people regardless of their skin color or heritage or anything else beyond their control.
Now, those are some of the main characters and their relationship to Leisel. Here’s the best way to
ruin sum up the book: Almost everyone dies. Seriously. Her brother on the train in the first chapter on their way to their adoptive parents, Mama, Papa, Rudy and all of his family. The book talks about how she likes to go to the basement to read and write and one night, while she is down there, there is an air raid with no warning and a bomb takes out everyone on her block. She is saved only because she was in the basement but is rescued to find that almost everyone she knows has been killed. The only person who, remarkably, makes it to the end of the book is Max, the Jew they were hiding in their basement – because he is at a concentration camp and not in the house. Ironic doesn’t even begin to sum it up.
The book could have been worse, but it could have been better if we could’ve seen some of the lessons that she learned from these relationships. I know that some of them were implied but since we were listening to her feelings, it would have been nice to see what she learned from each of them.