08 March 2011

Post 346: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Mark Zusak. ISBN: 9780307433848 (eBook).

So I mentioned in my general update that I like stories told from the perspective of Death and/or his minions.I especially like this Death, he has a sense of humor I feel I jive with. He understands the necessity of his role, but he also seems to take some amount of pride or at least care in his work. In this story, Death is less the agent of The End and more like its janitor. I especially like this because it takes away any sort of decision or direct guilt on his part. This is particularly powerful in Nazi Germany, where almost everyone had some role to play in the death of so many people, even if it was only as someone who kept their heads down and tried not to draw attention to themselves.

It makes a very nice contrast in displaying true helplessness or lack of choices versus what is perceived. We see the Nazi soldiers who take an active role in antagonizing and torturing the Jews; we see Liesel and her foster parents who recognize the wrong and assist Jews whenever possible, but still throw Heils in order to escape ostracization; and then there is Death himself who has absolutely no control over the lives of humans. And yet it is Death who was given control of the story.  The least powerful "person" was the only one left to say, "This is what happened."

I like this for a number of reasons. For one thing, it takes away the right to tell history from the usual winners. One might say that Death always wins at the game of life, but even Death recognizes that he's not really playing that game. In fact, Death sometimes sounds bitter that he doesn't get the chance to really live or die. His "life" isn't  a neat story with a beginning, middle, and end, but rather a never-ending conglomeration of other people's deaths. He can piece together bits and pieces of a single life from various intersections of others' deaths in one persons life, but without the aid of Liesel's words he would have been otherwise unable to experience The Daily Moments: Liesel's struggles to learn how to read, Papa's accordion music, the nightmares, her friendship with and love of Rudy Steiner. Those Moments are what make life and yet Death only catches the rare glimpse of them, because for most of us Death is not a daily part of our lives. We may have to live with the aftermath, we may carry a small piece of him around, but most of us do not see it every day.

But the lives that Death is able to piece together and create a whole from seem to be all that more important to him. He seems to understand that Liesel and everyone else is made up of bits of good and bad. He calls Rudy both a fruit stealer and a bread giver with almost the same amount of respect for each title, perhaps because each requires a certain spark of Human Spirit that Death admires. This is something I forget to appreciate, and so when Death narrates, it tends to be both a literal and metaphorical reminder of what is important in life.

An awesome video review can be found on bandgeek8408's channel.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from my library via Overdrive Media.


  1. I noticed your sidebar had this Markus Zusak quote under your "Favorite Quotes": "Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you've finished, just to stay near it" - and I think that's a good summary of how I felt about The Book Thief. I read it a few years ago, but I still find myself thinking about it and reflecting on it. Great review!

  2. Thanks Lisa, glad you enjoyed it. The quotes are actually random, so it's awesome you managed to get that one. ;-)

  3. This is one of my favorite books! So glad you included it on here! Yes, I also love how the narrator is actually Death itself; it makes for an interesting point of view.

    This is going on my summer reading list :P A book this good has to be read again!

  4. Agreed, Emmy. I'll probably reread this in a year or two.


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