The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Grueling. Dark. Terrifying. Feared. Merciless.Morbid. These are some of the words that are attributed to Death. For most of us, we depict Death as a heartless creature, capturing and gathering the souls of the departed, bringing them to the place we have yet to know. To some others, it exists as life meets its finality, another unknown to be discovered and explored. But in general, human beings alike find Death a negative force that brings nothing but despair and grief. It is not something to be yearned and befriended.
But what if we are presented with a peculiar and interesting side of Death? One which has a heart that understands and pity the human beings he fetch, a mind that ponders on the mysteries of humanity, and a soul which tires from all the gloomy consequences of carrying the burden of every dead being it guides? And that is what I found as I unearth each page of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.
There have been a lot of stories told, books published, and movies produced based on the people’s experiences and tales during the Second World War, particularly the time of Hitler’s harrowing reign in Germany. Yes, the Holocaust was devastating yet with it come great stories of heroism, courage, and life. And this book takes a little zoom in on Himmel Street, a small town in Munich, Germany, in the midst of war on 1939. As the Nazis are busy on executing Jews all over the country, Death’s workload seems unending. But in one of his trip to collect yet another young soul, he stumbled upon a little girl, Liesel Meminger. Death witnessed Liesel’s first act of book thievery that sparked his lengthy interest on the girl. And this isn’t his only encounter with the girl. In fact, he was able to pick up the book Lieasel wrote which tells the story of her life. And in turn, it was Death’s selfless act that he shared Liesel Meminger’s story with us—a story of struggles, life, friendship, love, courage, and abandonment.
“When Death tells a story, you really have to listen.”
Liesel Meminger is a book thief. During her first acquisition, it was not clear why she pick the book from the snow-covered cemetery. She cannot even read at time. She saw the book lying on the ground, and somehow, had the urge to get it. And so her story continues as she was brought to Himmel Street and given to be cared for by her foster parents. From then on, the story blooms as several characters came to light, that will somehow touch Liesel’s life in one, little or great, way or another.
Here are some names that made their way deep into Liesel’s heart in the duration of Death’s tale: Hans Hubermann, Rosa Hubermann, Rudy Steiner, Ilsa Herman, and of course, Max Vandenburg. The book can be described as a series of hellos and goodbyes, of each relationship formed by Liesel with each of these characters, weaved into one brilliant life-changing story.
To give you a little picture regarding each of these persons, let’s talk about them one by one. Let us start with the first people she met at Himmel Street, Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Imagine a little girl dragged into another unknown place to live with another set of parents. By this time, I think you can understand why Liesel threw her most stubborn character at their faces. But with his kind and patient heart, Hans Hubermann was able to slowly soften Liesel’s unyielding facade and reached the scared little kid hiding inside. And that was the beginning of a very personal and close friendship, perhaps the very reason why Liesel Meminger’s life was saved. The strong bond between Papa Hubermann and Liesel made me yearn for a father’s love so bad. Despite the poverty and tragic misfortunes Liesel experienced, I cannot help but envy her for having the chance to grow up with a father figure embodied by Hans Hubermann. There were times when I had to put the book down just to wipe away tears from my eyes. Tears that made their way, flowing from my eyes, even when the parts I’m reading aren’t actually that emotionally provoking, but just enough to tug on my hearstrings. I think that this is the first book that has touched me like this.
As for Rosa Hubermann, she is the booming and loud counterpart of her husband. At times, you will hate her for being very harsh, but soon, you’ll realize that this grave woman also has a heart of gold beating deep within her. She is a woman capable of great kindness and care even when everything around her seemed dark.
Next in line comes Rudy Steiner, one of the characters that will linger with me even after finishing the book. Rudy had one single wish in life, and that is to kiss Liesel Meminger, to feel her lips, just once, against his own. And that is the reason why his story became, perhaps, the most depressing and saddening in this book. I guess, I’ll leave it to you to know why this is such, savor the pain. Rudy Steiner became Liesel’s best friend after one game of soccer, and from then on became her partner in crime in every single stealing quest they had.
And then there’s the mayor’s wife, Ilsa Herman. She was one of Rosa’s few customers. She was also the witness to one of Liesel’s book thievery. Every day, Liesel would pick up or deliver her laundry at their doorstep with nothing, even a mere smile or sound, from Ilsa Herman. At first, I was intrigued by her character. Surely, there was something about her cold attitude towards the book thief. And then as I read on, I knew that I was right. She was another book lover as well and she gave Liesel the privilege to read inside her library, letting the girl loose around the brilliance of numerous books. This paved the way to an unlikely friendship and was the reason why Liesel even thought of writing a book of her own.
And last but truly not the least, is Max Vandenburg. One thing you should know about him though: Max Vandenburg is a Jew. In any other time, that would not have been a problem, but we are talking about a story during the Holocaust period and we all know that it clearly isn’t a good time to be a Jew. His appearance in the story may have lead to a series of problems for the Hubermann household, but in a way, without him, the Liesel’s story would not be complete. Even when they knew about his status, Hans Hubermann took Max in their home, to be hidden in the basement. This was to repay his debt from Max’s father, who was the very reason why Hans was still alive. Max Vandenburg’s stay at their home resulted into another strong relationship with Liesel as they both learned their similarities. Both was a broken soul, haunted by the past and left alone to survive. Also, they both cling on the magnificent power of words to survive the harsh times. Max Vandenburg is my favorite character of all for he was capable of touching the reader’s hearts with his thoughts and stories.
I guess to sum it all up, Zusak story is really one of a kind for he was able to relay the difficulties of that era as well as the struggles of people in general, especially in coping with grief and loss. Another great thing in this novel was that Death was personified in a very unique way. His perspective was very detailed and inquisitive, not to mention surprising and at times, hilarious. I think that was the reason why this book is a success for it shows us that even Death has a different view of life. His words will make you yearn to know more about the story he is telling. I can even feel like I am at Himmel Street, myself, as he describes each event.
Oh and just a fair reminder for those who plan on reading this book: If you’re one of those people who despise spoilers, I suggest you try and get used to them beforehand, for this book doesn’t hold back on its facts. At any point, you’ll find that the future events are already being thrown right at your very eyes. Trust me when I say that you can never be prepared with what turning one page of this book could bring.
I think this is the best book I have read this year and Liesel’s story will linger on, permanently etched in my mind even in the long run. The book just blew me away. From the very first page, I was hooked. I had so much emotions the entire duration of reading it and all I can say is that the book was perfect. I fell in love almost immediately. This book very well deserves a 5/5.