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Book Review: The book thief

I had been hearing rad reviews about this book for a while now from everywhere, thanks to its movie namesake. I knew I would like it, as it has been repeatedly suggested by like minded friends as well, but was holding back from jumping into for time. 
Title: The book thief
ISBN: 037032921X (ISBN13: 9780370329215)
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Fiction - Historical
Main Characters: Liesel Meminger, Hans Hubermann, Rudy Steiner, Rosa Hubermann,Max Vandenburg, Tommy Müller, Ilsa Hermann, Frau Holtzapfel
Setting: Molching, 1939 (Germany) 
Finally as soon as I got my mobile with a larger screen, I feigned illness to stay up in bed for a longer hours only to read. And I was not disappointed at all.
The book thief is a slow moving poignant story of a young, skinny German girl Liesel Meminger who lives with her foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann at 33 Himmel Street. The story has layers of intertwined lives filled with emotions that makes me feel bewildered not knowing where to start. What better, if not easier path to start than from the beginning.
The narration is by none other than Death, personified, which makes it all the more interesting. The story begins with the narrator saying that He had visited the girl thrice in her life time. The girl and her brother were given up to her foster parents by her mother, but en route to meet them her brother dies in the train. Liesel and her mother arrange for his burial in a nameless town, where she picks up a book dropped by one of the grave diggers - that's her first book thievery.
She is entrusted with Hans and Rosa, who takes care of her as their own. She particularly gets very close to her Papa. She grows up rich with memories and love, though they lived at one of the poorer part of the town and struggle to make ends meet. Rudy Steiner, her best friend and partner in crime, and Liesel, alongside the other street urchins steal food often from the richer neighborhoods. Her Papa teaches her to read and write painfully and slowly so that she can read the book she had stolen. Lives continue as peacefully as it can at a poor German community, where Nazis are already hunting down Kommunists and Jews.
Hans, a painter, doesn't hold the party card because he had painted a few Jew households and even though he had applied, the party members held him at arm's length suspiciously. Even his son Hansi walked off from the family, as Hans doesn't believe in the Fuehrer. Liesel steals her second book from the bonfire fueled by books and posters that Nazis' found to be offensive.
Things go for a toss when Max Vandenberg, the son of Erik who had saved Hans' life during the war, asks for asylum at their house as the Jews were hunted down by the Fuehrer's men. The family takes him in and shares the meagre food ration they were allowed. Liesel especially grows closer to him and often reads with him in the basement of their house. She keeps Max a secret even from Rudy, as ordered by her Papa.
Rudy meanwhile faces trouble at the Hitler Youth by bullies. He is frustrated with them and obsessed with Jesse Owens vows to win all four races just like Jesse in the forthcoming athletes meet. He wins the gold in three and gets disqualified in 100m wantonly - only to say he wasn't Jesse (following Hitler not shaking Jesse's hands after the win in the Olympics). But such a great feat brings him and his family ill luck, as Nazis want to recruit Rudy into their programme. Rudy's father refuses to send his son into the ill fated troop.
Meanwhile, she also befriends Ilsa Hermann, the wife of the Mayor who shares her library to the girl after seeing her steal the book from the bonfire. But once they stopped using the services of Rosa to wash their clothes, Liesel doesn't want to visit her for books. Instead she coaxes Rudy into joining her in stealing books through an open window from Ilsa's library. She learns later that those were left open to enable Liesel to continue reading, even if she would not join Ilsa at her library.
Amidst this in other parts of Germany and Europe, Jews were rounded up and taken to the gas chambers. One such troop to Dachau passes through Himmel Street. Hans does the unthinkable act of offering an elderly Jew crumbs of bread and gets whipped in the public. Paranoia ensues as the family prepares for the Nazis to visit their house and find Max who is hidden in their chamber. Without any other way, they send Max to hideaway under the Amper bridge for a while. He gifts her sketches of stories about their life before he leaves.
As Germans' were being taken to task by the Russians, Fuehrer orders mandatory recruitment and both Hans and Rudy's father are enlisted for different mistakes. Air raids and hiding in the basement become rest of life, where Liesel takes up on her to read aloud for her neighbors. Jews marching to the next camp become frequent and Liesel finds her Max among the starved walking Jews. She gives a tearful good bye to him and earns whipping. The second time Death visits her, He does so too recklessly. She ends up losing everyone she knows at Himmel Street - her parents, Rudy and his family and her neighbors, to an air raid there were unprepared for. Liesel gets to be the sole survivor. The epilogue ends with Liesel and Alex, Rudy's father becoming friends and Max stumbling along one day asking for Liesel long after the war. The story ends with Liesel's death in Australia at old age - Death visiting her finally for the third time and sharing her book, that she was writing in the basement with Ilsa's stationery when the whole of Himmel Street was bombed. 
I should start off by saying how much I loved the simple yet powerful language used. Too many quotable quotes to remember and not to worry, I have shared them for you below the review. Though I got to know that Death visited her thrice earlier in the story, I couldn't keep the book down till I finished the last paragraph since I wanted to know what happened next.
I loved the friendly banter between Liesel and Rudy as much as I loved the relationship of Hans and Rosa. Who could not admire Hans for his kindness, benevolence and integrity despite the hard times they faced! Every single character, be it small or not, from Max, Ilsa to even Frau Diller who was a Fuehrer loyalist was etched perfection. Very small moments in the book left a lingering impact in my mind, like Illsa offering notebooks for Liesel to write her own thoughts, which incidentally saves her life and Max's sketches extolling the power of the words and its role in Hitler's rise. Nothing but Markus's words could have let me justify the suicide of the son of Frau Holtzman, who had already lost her other son to the war. 
The way that Death was personified, not just as the evil taker of lives but as a being that "who gently carries off the souls of those who have passed" spun sheer magic for me and I clearly was hooked.
I had to hold the best for the last, don't I? I simply adored Rudy. Be it his crazy obsession about Jesse Owens that he blackened himself head to toe, or his loyal friendship that he always accompanied our book thief even though he knows she was lying about hunting the Mayor's house for food. I couldn't stop grinning every time he asked for a kiss. And to know he wasn't going to survive the end earlier on, made him more irresistible than before. Rudy Steiner you are the romantic guy that I need ;) Augustus Waters, who?


Now few (or more) quotes that I loved from the book. Feel free to share them :P
"Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me."
"the journey continued like everything had happened."
"The impoverished always try to keep moving, as if relocating might help. They ignore the reality that a new version of the same old problem will be waiting at the end of the trip—the relative you cringe to kiss"
"No matter how many times she was told that she was loved, there was no recognition that the proof was in the abandonment. Nothing changed the fact that she was a lost, skinny child in another foreign place, with more foreign people. Alone."
"Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children "
"Oh, how the clouds stumbled in and assembled stupidly in the sky.
"one opportunity leads directly to another, just as risk leads to more risk, life to more life, and death to more death"
"caught him out on each occasion, but she had neither the selflessness to allow him to sleep nor the hide to be offended. She was a girl with a mountain to climb."
" is there cowardice in the acknowledgment of fear? Is there cowardice in being glad that you lived?"
“So much good, so much evil. Just add water.” 
"You might well ask just what the hell he was thinking. The answer is, probably nothing at all. He’d probably say that he was exercising his God-given right to stupidity. "
"Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands"
"When a person’s last response was Saumensch or Saukerl or Arschloch, you knew you had them beaten."
“Usually we walk around constantly believing ourselves. "I'm okay" we say. "I'm alright". But sometimes the truth arrives on you and you can't get it off. That's when you realize that sometimes it isn't even an answer--it's a question. Even now, I wonder how much of my life is convinced.” 
“He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.” 
“If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter. ”
“Have me,” they said, and there was no stopping them. They were frightened, no question, but they were not afraid of me. It was a fear of messing up and having to face themselves again, and facing the world, and the likes of you."
" It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on, coughing and searching, and finding"
"THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN 
A BOY WHO HATES YOU
A boy who loves you. "
Great obese clouds.
Dark and plump.Bumping into each other. Apologizing. Moving on and finding room."
I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold.

A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH
And I don't have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I'll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.”

It's probably what I love most about writing—that words can be used in a way that's like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around. They're the best moments in a day of writing—when an image appears that you didn't know would be there when you started work in the morning.” 


I cannot stop gushing over the book yet, to anyone who would listen. Yes it is a little slow but powerful words make up for that. I am yet to see the movie, so I am not yet ready to have your "movie or book?"question but do fire away all your other questions. 




10 comments:

  1. Vow love the quotes and the way it is reviewed... It sounds universal

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    1. Yes Regi.. It emphasis on the power and strength of words spoken or written. And I know you love Historical novels, so this is a must try for you :)

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  2. Oh, how I love this book! The feeling that kids are kids no matter which side of a war they are born on - and how "dangerous" the written word can be... Thanks for reminding me- wanna re-read it now:-)

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    1. Exactly Eli. I also realized how a single day could change everything in the world for anyone. Such a powerful writing. Do re-read it, go girl!

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  3. I have heard of this book. Loved the review. I should pick this up soon!

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    Replies
    1. You should, I am telling everyone I know and know not this :) Can't stop raving about it..

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