PB Fingers Book Club: The Book Thief

We’re taking a brief hiatus from the foodie world today (although there’s still time to enter the Runa giveaway!!) to talk about my other loves: books, and getting lost in them. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately!

I’ve never been much of a historical fiction reader–except when it comes to World War II literature. Number the Stars was one of my favorite required reading books in elementary school, and I did several reports on the time period for other classes as well.

So when Julie at Peanut Butter Fingers picked The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, for this month’s book club discussion, I was beyond psyched. I happened to have just scored a copy through a World Book Night promotion I did with my real-life job, and its praises had already been sung by my roommate.

My high hopes were not disappointed! The Book Thief might be intimidating in its thickness, but it is the definition of a page turner. My train rides to and from work flew by as I lost myself in the world of Liesl Memiger, a nine-year-old German girl who finds her tiny town of Molching at the center of the Nazi movement during the Second World War.

The book starts out with tragedy–on their way to their new home, where they will live with foster parents, Liesl’s brother dies, and she has to part with her biological mother immediately afterward. It is here that her curious identity as the book thief begins. Even though Liesl cannot read the gravediggers’ handbook she steals from the site of her brother’s burial, it is the first in an arsenal of books that will become her shield against the forces of malevolence working in her life and her world. Her foster father, Hans Hubermann, teaches her to read in the middle of the nights, and books become her way of keeping the nightmares (both in her head and outside her door) at bay.

Hands down the most interesting part of this book for me was that it is narrated by Death. Not the black-hood-wearing, scyth-carrying figure of stereotype, as he is quick to tell us, but the voice of that being responsible for collecting the souls of those unfortunate (or fortunate, as it seems at times) enough to depart from this life. Death’s voice is an eerie foreshadowing of the tragedy that will befall Liesl, but he also offers a strangely endearing commentary on her childish actions and that of her best friend, Rudy Steiner.

The other part of this book I found so engaging was Liesl’s background. Most World War II or Holocaust literature features Jewish children as the protagonists; the stories of Anne Frank and those like her forced into hiding are what we first expect when we delve into this genre. But Liesl is Lutheran and a German national by birth. In fact, the book spends a lot of time talking about her and her friends’ training with the Hitler Youth in their village, singing “Germany Above All,” and burning “questionable” literature. It is not Liesl who goes into hiding–although we find out her mother was probably sending Liesl and her brother to foster parents because she and her husband had been labeled communists–but Liesl and the Hubermanns who hide a Jewish refugee in their basement, the son of Hans’s friend who perished in the Firs World War.

As Liesl gathers more books and comes into her own as the book thief, I was struck by how she made words have power for her in a world where she would otherwise be powerless–as when she distracts all of her neighbors by reading aloud to them in the cellar for the duration of an air raid.

I could go on and on, but I want you to read the book, too! The action moves quickly, the writing is at times laugh-out-loud funny, and you will find yourselves loving these characters in spite of their flaws (which Death doesn’t let you forget about). What was most important for me as a reader, though, was that this book made me think–it made me consider the events of World War II from the opposite side of the struggle, from the German side, and to remember that there were people who were conflicted about the actions of the Nazi movement there, too.

Check out Julie’s review and see her other readers’ posts at Peanut Butter Fingers!

3 thoughts on “PB Fingers Book Club: The Book Thief

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