Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Markus Zusak – “The Book Thief”

Publ: 2006 ISBN:0552773891
Rating: *****

I have the problem that when I cry my tears sting my eyes making it even more difficult then usual to see. A couple of times I had to just put the book down and wait until my eyes stopped stinging!

Ten pages into this work I had my doubts. Was this going to be another of those books I never finished? Twenty pages in I decided it was at least likely to be finished. By thirty pages i was well and truly hooked. Had it not been so long I would have loved to have consumed it at one sitting like I did "Sharpe's Fortress". It's just a small story really. Only 580 pages to tell the whole tale of man’s inhumanity to man – and, sometimes, man’s humanity. It is about, among other things, a girl, a house-painter, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, a boy who wanted to be Jesse Owens, and the occasional piece of thievery. . . .

P.S. the narrator is Death!! How cool is that? This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul. Not only should you read it (for the good of your soul) but you’ll enjoy doing so. The imagery is brilliant.

“Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meagre existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist - books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbours during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement....”

Some quotes:-
Frau Diller – “She developed this evil look to discourage the very idea of stealing from her shop, which she occupied with soldier-like posture, a refrigerated voice and even breath that smelled like Heil Hitler. “
“Many jocular comments followed, as did another onslaught of Heil Hitlering. You know, it actually makes me wonder if anyone ever lost an eye or injured a hand or wrist with all of that. You’d only need to be facing the wrong way at the wrong time, or stand marginally too close to another person. Perhaps people did get injured. Personally, I can only tell you that no-one died from it, or, at least, not physically. There was, of course, the matter of forty million people I picked up by the time the whole thing was finished, but that’s getting all metaphoric....”
“She was a girl.
In Nazi Germany.
How fitting that she was discussing the power of words.”
“When a Jew shows up at your place of residence in the early hours of the morning, in the very birthplace of Nazism, you’re likely to experience extreme levels of discomfort. Anxiety, disbelief, paranoia. Each plays its part, and each leads to a sneaking suspicion that a less than heavenly consequence awaits. The fear is shiny. Ruthless in the eyes.”
“On Munich Street, Rudy noticed Deutscher walking along the footpath with some friends and felt the need to throw a rock at him. 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..”
“1942 It was a year for the ages, like 79, like 1346, to name just a few. Forget the scythe, God damn it. I needed a broom or a mop. And I needed a holiday.”
“A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH. I do not carry a sickle or scythe. I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold. 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.”
“In all honesty (and I know I’m complaining excessively now), I was still getting over Stalin, in Russia. The so-called second revolution – the murder of his own people.
Then came Hitler.
They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly. ‘Get it done, get it done.’ The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.”

MARKUS ZUSAK was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1975 but brought up hearing stories about Nazi Germany from his Austrian father and German mother. Stories about the bombing of Munich and about Jews being marched through his mother’s small, German town. He always knew it was a story he wanted to tell. Originally Zusak intended to take on his father's trade as a commercial house painter but believed he had no talent for the job.
Markus Zusak said of The Book Thief:- “No matter what anyone ever says about that book, whether good or bad, I know it was the best I could do, and I don't think a writer can ask for more of himself than that.”

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