Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is the second time I've read this book.  The first time was almost 3 years ago.  But because it is my book club's current month's selection, and I really liked the book, I decided to read it again so that I could discuss it intelligently.

The story is set in Germany beginning in 1939 and is narrated by Death (sounds strange, but it works).  A 10-year old girl, Liesel Meminger, is put into foster care with Hans and Rosa Hubermann because her father is a communist and her mother can no longer care for her.  Liesel's younger brother dies on the way to the Hubermann's home.  Liesel picks up (steals) a book at her brother's funeral that was left behind by one of the grave diggers; the book is The Grave Digger's Handbook.  Even though Liesel is 10 years old, she doesn't know how to read.  When Hans discovers the book that Liesel has been hiding, he helps her learn to read.  Liesel's best friend is her next door neighbor, Rudy Steiner.  Liesel's life changes again when the Hubermann's hide Max, a Jewish man in his 20's, in their basement.  My favorite quote in the book is this (Alex Steiner is Rudy's father):

* * *  THE CONTRADICTORY POLITICS  * * *
OF ALEX STEINER
Point One:  He was a member of the Nazi party, but he did not
hate the Jews, or anyone else for that matter.
Point Two:  Secretly, though, he couldn't help feeling a
percentage of relief (or worse -- gladness!) when
Jewish shop owners were put out of business --
propaganda informed him that it was only a matter of
time before a plague of Jewish tailors showed up
and stole his customers.
Point Three:  But did that mean they should be driven
out completely?
Point Four:  His family.  Surely, he had to do whatever he
could to support them.  If that meant being in the party,
it meant being in the party.
Point Five:  Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his
heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it.  He was afraid of
what might come leaking out.

I believe there were many people who felt similarly in Nazi Germany; not evil, but afraid to stand up for what was right.  I rate this book 5 out of 5.

5 comments:

freebird said...

I agree. We had put such extreme sanctions on the Germans after WWI that they were really (literally, too) hungry for some kind of change. They grabbed for it when Hitler offered it but I don't think most knew what was going on until it was too late and too dangerous to do much about it.

I've heard people mumble in our country since President Obama took office, that we should have a revolution in our country to "get our country back" or "back on track". I really don't think they know just what they are saying either. Big changes such as revolutions or putting people like Hitler in power cause many people to die. Most of the Iranians, Russians and Chinese didn't expect what they got either. Oh dear, I am up on my soap box! I'll step down now. (Maybe I should read that book)!

Anna said...

I think you pointed out something really important that we all should remember when reading books about WWII. It's easy to think of all Germans as Nazis or evil, but that wasn't the case.

This is one of my favorite books. I'll link to your post on War Through the Generations.

Hansi said...

Hey this sounds like an interesting book.
But I think it's wrong to justify what the Germans did by saying they didn't know what was happening or they were afraid to stand up. It's true that the Germans were going through a hard time after the WWI but unleashing their wrath on the Jews was definitely wrong.
"How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn't see" ~ Bob Dylan

Cheryl Gebhart said...

Hansi, I completely agree with you. But this book doesn't try to justify what the Germans did; quite the contrary. I do believe that there were some good Germans - those who hid Jews and stood up to the Nazis. I found the quote interesting because to me it showed how even those who didn't hate the Jews (and wouldn't have actively done anything to hurt them) were still somewhat glad when the Jews were put out of business, because it helped them. And I certainly didn't think Alex Steiner was a good man. I just found the contradictions interesting.

Hansi said...

Yes that is an interesting thought. I'm sure that happens today as well. We watch the news and hear that some other country has been devastated by famine or extreme weather and we comment that this could have a positive impact "wow, I sure hope the oil prices go down" or "yeah! now that their crops are ruined we have an export market!" etc.