Saturday, 14 April 2012
The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak
How are you with books that tell you things you didn't want to know, books that (just) might make you cry, books told by Death? Death is the narrator of this tale, and as he will tell you himself, he was kept very busy indeed in Europe during World War Two, gathering the souls of the dead. But d'you know what? Death has a heart. He gathers the souls very gently, and even though he's busy all the time, sometimes the living, left behind, affect him more than they should.
The Book Thief is, I think, a tremendous achievement. Set near Munich, Germany, It's the story of Liesel, a child of around 10, who arrives, with her mother, at the home of a strange couple indeed. And then, her mother walks away. Mama - the new (step)mother, swears like a trouper, has a temper, and cooks badly. Papa, the new stepfather, plays the accordion and smokes all the time. Liesel can't run away, she has nowhere to run to, and it is never clear why this happened, and indeed, whether she had a father in the first place; but she has been lodged there for her own safety, that you can be sure of. She goes to school, she makes friends - especially Rudy, who falls for her the moment he meets her, but never does get that kiss he craves. They go scrumping apples together, they go stealing together, and they watch groups of Jews marching (or more often stumbling) to Dachau. As the war progresses, you will find out how people back from the Russian front dealt with their losses, how people who were poor even before the war deal with no livelihood and no food, and how older people were "encouraged" to take on jobs which although not as soldiers, certainly involved wearing uniforms, all the while under the shadow of the swastika whether or not they even supported the Nazi party. And who was going to say they didn't?
The author is Australian, but second generation European, and he has used events related by his parents as the starting block for this tremendous book.
For those of us who were on the "winning" side of World War Two, this book is a smack round the ears, to remind us that no-one wins a war. Politically there is a victor, but everyone is a loser, whether they loose their life, their families, their home, their mind, their friends. This book will tell you what it's like to be bombed, but it will not take sides. This book will tell you how different people cope with the same adversity. This book will make you realise that people are people the world over, and when Death comes, he does not see the country you are faithful to, the colour of your skin, the church or temple you worship at. But to remind you - Death has a heart, and sometimes it nearly breaks.