I’m baaaaaaaaack! I hope all of my fellow American bookworms have come out of their food comas! I know I’m still struggling. A 4-day-weekend is a glorious thing, but I want a weekend to recover from my weekend. Can we make that happen? Ah, well. I knew it was a long shot.
In the few months I’ve been wandering aimlessly about the blogosphere, I’ve been hearing about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. In fact, I was told that I absolutely HAD to read it so often that I entered a contest to win the book for free. Lo and behold, my craptastic gambling luck abandoned me just long enough so that I could WIN. Many thanks to Jessica of The Bluestocking Society for running the contest!
In case you, like me, have been living in a literary cave… The Book Thief is about a young German girl who is essentially orphaned and lives with a foster family during World War II. Delightful plot quirk: the entire story is narrated by Death. You know, Death. As in, the Grim Reaper (although Death is amused and annoyed by the inaccuracies of humanity’s interpretations of his likeness.) I realize as I write this that I’m using a masculine pronoun to describe a genderless being, and my inner feminist is protesting. Whatever, Inner Feminist, “Death” in my head is a dude, okay? Gosh. Where were we? (Important Note! My Inner Feminist is NOTHING like Ana Steel’s “Inner Goddess” in 50 Shades of Grey. In fact, my Inner Feminist wants to beat the crap out of Steele’s “Inner Goddess.” Cage Match?)
Our protagonist, Liesel, grows up living a nomadic life. Though she doesn’t understand why, her father has disappeared and her poverty stricken mother moves Liesel and her brother around constantly. Though Liesel is 9, she’s never attended school properly and thus cannot even read. It’s revealed that Liesel’s father (at least, perhaps her mother too) was a Communist (or accused Communist… the truth of things never seems to matter much to totalitarian regimes.) Being an open Communist in Nazi Germany is a one way ticket to persecution, and probably death. Liesel’s mother is concerned for the welfare of her children so she travels to Munich to give up custody. Tragically, Liesel’s 6 year old brother doesn’t survive the journey, and his death fuels her desire to learn to read. This is the first time Death encounters Liesel. (Seriously though, Liesel’s Communist parents weren’t exactly picking between Club Med and Sandals. Escaping the Nazis to join the Communists? Stalin was damn near as murderous as Hitler, he was just quieter about the genocide. Humanity. What a mess.)
Once Liesel is established in her foster family, the war begins to escalate. For young German children, that means school and compulsory participation in the Hitler Youth program. Even though Liesel and her foster family’s hearts are NOT into the Nazi party ideology, they have very little choice other than to do what is expected of them. German people who didn’t participate as expected were treated with suspicion at best- dissenters didn’t have a long life expectancy. Which is why the plot thickens so heavily when Liesel’s family takes in and hides a Jew. Max is the son of Liesel’s foster father’s WWI army buddy (seriously, what a CRAPPY time to be alive to deal with BOTH World Wars.)
In a lot of respects, The Book Thief reminded me of Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (which is amazing and you should totally read it if you liked The Book Thief.) War is a big fat steaming pile of suck. Poor Death is worked to… well, death… with all the warfare and chaos and genocide throughout this book. Anyway, what I think is interesting about these books is that they go behind “enemy” lines. Normal German people weren’t necessarily awful people by any means. They were stuck in a crappy situation. Some of them took the incredibly brave step of hiding their Jewish friends. Some resisted in other ways by refusing to participate in party requests. Some of them stole books out of Nazi bonfires (cough cough Liesel.) Most just tried their best to keep themselves and their families alive.
When I received this book in the mail, I couldn’t wait to tackle it. Jessica was kind enough to include a short note warning me that I’d need tissues toward the end… And oh, how right she was! I’m not going to go into major spoiler territory because I’m just not feeling like it. I will tell you, however, that I cried and cried while reading the end of this book.
It sounds really stupid to say that you love when books make you cry, but I do. I mean, a book must be exceptionally well-written in order to elicit that sort of response. Plus, my literary cry is very dignified. Unlike my real life someone was mean/something tragic happened/someone died cry, my book and movie cry is quite stoic. Minimal mucus production. Classy tear stream. No hiccups and/or howler monkey sobs. It’s my “dab with a hanky” cry. And I love it.
Anybody read The Book Thief? Anybody notice a difference between their book cry and their serious emotional cry? Tell me I’m not alone here!