Robbie Craig-The Book Thief extended text (By Markus Zusak)-15/14/2018
Set in Nazi Germany, in the shadow of the most destructive war in human history The Book Thief is an emotional and ambitious novel about the life and struggles of Liesel Meminger. Liesel is a young orphan girl with an insatiable love of books who lives with her foster parents in the poor neighbourhood of Himmel Street. Unable to afford her own books Liesel and her friend Rudy take to stealing them, thus beginning her “illustrious career” of thievery which is constantly observed and admired by the omniscient narrator; Death.
I would recommend this text to any teenager or adult who has experienced loss. The personification of death is in the form of a caring, fair and gentle entity who respects the souls of the passed. In one line he says “I’m not violent, Im not malicious, I’m a result”. I found Zusaks’ inviting portrayal of Death a stark but refreshing contrast to popular culture where he is described as an evil cloaked figure carrying a scythe and snatching life from unwilling humans, not caring less about who he takes.
Not many characters in the story have such a close relationship with Death as The Book Thief, when people she loves die Death is always there with her, unable to prevent the horrors she endures or to comfort her in times of immense grief. After discovering Liesel survives the bombing Death confesses that “it broke my heart” This made me feel Deaths pain and disappointment as even though he sees what’s coming he is completely unable to act. I can somewhat relate to deaths feeling of hopelessness as often I see issues such as climate change or threat of disaster ignored in the international community and although I would desperately like to change them myself I am only one person and have no power to do so.
Death sees the world through “colours” and often describes the scene to the reader using them, according to him “A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors”. Colour is almost Deaths escape from his cruel and gruelling job mopping up the millions of dead as he “vacates in increments, in colours”. This made me reflect on how awful and devastating war is as millions of people suffer and die unnecessary deaths. War has not changed and Death is still busy, and even he himself dislikes it.
However, Death avoids one thing even more than the dead; the humans still living. He is “haunted by humans” and finds them desperate and fragile creatures who are constantly struggling through life but never giving up. They persist, and are able to carry immense burdens “I’ll never know, or comprehend—what humans are capable of”. This made me realize that humans are capable of both great and terrible things and Death is slightly confused about our unpredictable state. Humans are not like Death who performs similar tasks every day; we start wars, commit genocide and segregate each other, but we also care for our families and love one another. Death is a constant and cannot understand this and therefore would do anything to avoid humans and humans anything to avoid his cold embrace.
Considering Death and humans do their best to keep their distance, it seems strange that a young girl and Death would become so attached to one another. After Liesel’s younger brother dies on a train ride to their new foster parents in Munich Death quietly arrives on the train to take her brother away. This is where they first meet; “Her heart at that point was slippery and hot, and loud, so loud so loud. Stupidly, I stayed. I watched”.The narrator’s description of Liesel’s heart was so new and unique it amplified my emotions towards this event and made me feel a strong sadness I usually never feel when reading a book. It reminded me of times where i was panicked and gave me the same hot feeling in my chest. Most of all It made me understand why Death admires Liesel and why he takes time to watch her, because he cares.
For the majority of the book Death focuses on words and colours to describe the ups and downs of Liesel’s life. However I noticed that words and colours were not only used by Death in Nazi Germany. Hitler came to power through these same means, he used his talent for words to conjure anger in the public and once in control filled the country with the deep red, white and black colours of the swastika; a constant reminder of his words. This made me think that Hitler was almost Deaths accomplice, always making sure he had enough work to do.
As Liesel grows older and world war two erupts, making Death’s job very busy. I began to notice certain historical events happening in Germany; towns were bombed and young, talented children like Liesel’s best friend Rudy were recruited to become professional soldiers, this is when Death mentions; “i’ve seen so many men over the years who think they are running at other men. They are not. They are running at me”. I believe this reflects the state of German society back then, where young men were told glorious tales of war and taking back the lands that were rightfully theirs. This not only began world war two but also gave the people a radical hunger for war, Blinded by hatred German soldiers were sent to run at “Death” for their Fuhrer. Nowadays people are more educated and have realized that there is only death waiting for them across that muddy, bomb streaked field instead of the glorious victory promised by Hitler.
Soon the allied bombing reaches Himmel street and Liesel’s still blossoming life is shattered to pieces as Death comes collect almost all the people she loves. In their last moments Death gingerly lifts them from their bodies and carries them away and it becomes evident that he himself is moved; “Oh, crucified christ, Rudy”. This line conjured a deep sadness and feeling of loss for me as “crucified christ” was a common phrase used by many of the characters in the story and made me realise Death is just like them, he is emotional, he is human.