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German studies

University, School

Privatgymnasium St.Leon-Rot

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2012,

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Text by Gunhild P. ©
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Markus Zusak’s - ‛The Book Thief’

Essay


Markus Zusak’s ‛The Book Thief’ has just reached No. 1. It is a phenomenal, yet grim, read, incorporating themes of resilience and adventure with those of Nazi fascism and genocidal murder. Intriguingly, narrated by Death it provides a unique perspective on events as he sees and knows all. This unusual devise of casting Death as the Narrator is particularly clever and adds a chilling dimension.

The novel was first released in 2005 and won several important awards including the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book. It tackles powerful themes- most notably the realities of being Jewish during the 1940’s in Nazi Germany. It opens deeper insights into that era and causes the reader to reflect on how they might have responded to a similar situation.

Liesel Meminger, the protagonist, is a character portrayed expertly. Zusak paints the imperfect, yet entirely believable picture of a young girl caught in the heartache and distress of the Nazi regime. Leisel begins to steal books as a way of consoling herself however when she steals her first book she is unable to read at all.

As the story develops we find that in her later life she becomes a writer who understands the power of words. ‛Without words there would be none of this. No fighting, no death, nothing.’ Liesel encounters Death many times during her life and takes many risks to save others from its torment.

Other characters in the book, whilst not prominent are depicted with clarity. Each have their own stories, devastations and elations. These come together as the story unfolds in an entwining web of intricate relationships and experiences. All aspects of the plot are essential to the storyline and combine to build a complex and powerful climax.

The novel follows Leisel’s heartbreaking and extraordinary journey of survival and courage. It entrances the reader and continually propels them into the next chapter.

The most agonising decision Liesel and her foster family make is to house a Jewish fist fighter in their small, cold basement, attempting to save him from the monstrosities of the concentration camp ‛Dachau’. Max is housed for many months, but he falls seriously ill, exposing the family to even greater risk of reprisals. ‛If hiding a live Jew was difficult, disposing of a Jewish body, was almost impossible.’

The novel includes messages of bravery, with the central characters displaying that even in these horrific circumstances, happiness and friendship can shine through, becoming even stronger than it was previously. Small kindnesses take on large proportions and are very touching. A moment when Liesel, along with her best friend, hide bread on the road for the captured Jewish to find is extremely moving.

The themes are applicable to the everyday life of all us. Indeed, as you read the book, many thoughts arise relating to your own life. For example, Max an estranged Jew, has little that is good in his life, but help comes, and eventually he has a loving family.

Whilst reading this book it becomes impossible to avoid being immersed in its reality. Strong emotive language is used by Zusak to capture the reader, making them empathise strongly with the central characters. We feel their pain as they are ripped from the ones whom they love most.

We feel their elation as they discover all is not lost. Figurative language is used extensively throughout the book building clarity and engagement as everything is understood everything is felt.

This is evident when Death himself tells us, ‛The dark, The light, What is the difference? Nightmares have reinforced themselves in each.’

‛The Book Thief’ presents the human side of war in a quirky yet masterful book. Zusak brings characters to life and depicts in a very confronting way the shocking realities and devastation of Nazi ideology in action.

By reading this novel you are taken on an emotional journey. It is a book you must read, and will never ever forget.

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