Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Book Thief in Nazi Germany

Books and movies about Nazism, Hitler, World War II, concentration camps, and Jews are amongst my favorites. I am this weird kind of person, whose daily problems are not enough. I need drama when I read, when I watch, everywhere. I love a good old book or movie that makes me cry and shiver. It is a katarsis. People say they need funny and relaxing moments to forget their issues. I am the opposite. I need bigger dramas, huge sufferings, immerse pain to feel I am still alive. That is why The Book Thief by the Australian writer Markus Zusak is my type of literature.

The story is set in a small German town during the Second World War. The protagonist is Liesel Meminger, a 9 year old girl, who meets Death three times. In this novel Death isn't like anything you imagined it to be - Death sees colors, feels compassion, gently takes away the souls, criticizes war, and is obsessed with humans. In fact, Death tells us the story. Yes, you heard right. When the unwanted but inevitable visitor first meets Liesel, the young girl loses her brother. She is sent to live with foster parents in a small German town. The second time Death and Liesel meet an enemy bomber crashes near the place the girl lives. The third time the whole town is bombarded and Liesel is the only one that survives.

What is unusual about Liesel is that she is a thief. A book thief. The little girl finds compassion and enjoyment in stealing books and reading them in the middle of the night with her stepfather. Soon, Liesel starts writing her own story - a touching story about a book thief in Nazi Germany. A story that Death itself finds during her cruises to gather souls and is so impressed with, that it decides to share it. Liesel's life is difficult. Her family is poor, her mother is a communist persecuted by Hitler, her stepmother is strict and her best friend is a Jew hidden in their basement. Max Vanderburg is a Jewish fist-fighter, whom Liesel's father Hans shelters in their home. Max and the girl develop a strong relationship, based on their mutual love for books, reading, and writing. However, Nazi Germany is not a place to be a friend with a Jew. Liesel lives in a difficult world and soon she loses all the people she cared for and loved. This is the story of growing up in a world torn by prejudice, hatred, and bitterness. Liesel survives because of the books she steals. She finds worlds in there, which help her overcome her difficult life. She is young but she opposes the regime she doesn't understand by stealing books supposed to be burned and by helping a Jew. When Death finally comes for Liesel's soul, she is already a grown up woman in Australia. However, her life story is forever captured in her novel.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a different book. Its language is fragmentary and simple. Sometimes the narration is interrupted for clarifications, lists, conclusions, and wisdom. All of which come from Death. The novel is gloomy, depressing, and tragic. Yet even though it is told from the point-of-view of death, it is a story about love, hope, compassion, and help. It brings up all the best virtues in the human beings, which they manifest in times of great crisis. It is a must read novel for all of us, to remember the power of literature, to understand how books become treasures, to feel the great fulfillment that comes from finishing a novel. And it is there to remind us of one of the worst tragedies in world history. And it is there to bring us hope. Even though this hope comes from Death.

Recently I thought a book I wanted to see made into a movie. I thought about my favorite ones, but most of them have already been adapted for the big screen. The Book Thief is a book I want to really see. We can never have enough movies about the Holocaust. Combined with the fact that this book is about the treasury of literature, I strongly hope that soon we will have the chance to watch its adaptation in the cinemas.

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