The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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The Book Thief, narrated by Death, is about a girl, Liesel Meminger, fostered with a family outside of Munich during World War II. As the narrator begins:
...It’s a small story really, about: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter and quite a lot of thievery.
Nevertheless, Death follows this tale closely and it affects him throughout the years.
Risking life and limb, Liesel spends the war years stealing books that are condemned, even as her foster family hides Max, a Jewish man, in the basement of their home. Liesel’s foster father (the accordionist), is an upright man whose word is his bond not matter what the consequences.
The main characters of the book are as follows:
- Liesel Meminger
- Her Foster Father
- The Mayor's Wife
At the center of the story are the books that Lisel steals, from the Mayor’s wife (who knows and tacitly approves of her actions) and other places. After her foster father has taught her to read, she begins her own book, “The Book Thief” and talks about what she has done.
Liesel’s actions defy the authority of the Nazi regime, notorious for burning anything that did not fit into their narrow worldview. Nazi’s killed those who failed to follow their tenents, who were Jews, or anyone else they felt were not within their control. Liesel’s rebelliousness echoes her foster father’s and proves that even within a disasterous and dangerous war, there are people of for whom honor, principle, and decency are paramount, even when it may mean their lives.
Death’s perception of the events provides a window into the lives of all those who were trying to survive the onslaught of war and destruction. His interest in the book thief traces her life and her losses – her birth parents, her foster parents, Rudy, in the horror of the bombing and her fear that Max was gone forever.
There is something about the humanity, the defiance, the survival that resonates with Death so he saves her book when it was nearly thrown away after her foster home was bombed and everything she had saved during the war was gone. After Death has taken her, many years after the war and her long and vital life, he returns it to her. It is her story and it has affected him through the decades so much, that Death himself says “I am haunted by humans” and the book thief.