This was another one of those books where I wasn’t sure what to expect. I am super glad I read it though! It was a thoroughly entertaining, amusing, and heartbreaking read.
Death is the narrator of this novel in the most literal sense. He follows the story of a young girl Liesel. Liesel is a young girl following a tough road. Her mother, brother and her flee to a small town near Munich. When they get there her brother dies, and her mother takes her to be put into a foster home. Liesel finds a decent home with her foster parents and eventually befriends a young boy named Rudy. This book follows both Liesel’s journey and the journey of those around her as they struggle through trying to make a living in Nazi Germany.
This was a fabulous book. Death as a narrator is genius. He is portrayed as a guy who does his job, but doesn’t relish in it. He does what needs to be done and survives by looking at things with a dark wit and sardonic nature. Much of the narrative is darkly humorous and witty coming from Death’s perspective. Occasionally Death bemoans the fact that Nazi Germany kept him extremely busy and wore him to the bone. Death occasionally gets off topic and rambles about what death a certain side character met, or a time when one of the characters narrowly avoided him. The narrative of Death is not all humor though; he is touched by compassion for humanity and sometimes struggles with the trials he sees humans put through.
Liesel is another fascinating character in what is a vast array of fascinating characters. She starts stealing books before she can even read them. In the end it is her book stealing (and reading) skills that help put the town at ease in a time of trial; in the end it is her book reading that saves her. It was fascinating to watch how Liesel and her friends struggle with being proper Germans in a Nazi Germany. You always here a lot about the races the Nazi’s oppressed, but you don’t often read about how oppressed the normal German people were under Hilter’s thumb. Rudy is, of course, very interesting in his own right as is, Max, the Jew Liesel’s family helps hide.
I was really impressed by how much depth and history all of the characters, even minor ones, bring to the story. All of the characters seem so real and you feel for them all. You even feel sorry for Death. Yet at the same time most of the characters look at their lives with a type of dark humor that makes life bearable.
This is a long book and not a quick read; but every page was worth it. The story always has some urgency as things get worse and worse for the townspeople, the Jews, and Germany in general. Towards the end I found myself cringing as I got closer and closer to what I knew wasn’t going to be a very happy ending. Keep in mind this is about Nazi Germany, not much ended happy in that time for anyone. At times this book will make you laugh, at times it makes you angry, and at times it will make you cry. It is wonderful for a book to be able to evoke all those emotions, and to be honest the book took a couple days to process after I read it.
I think everyone should read this book. I think everyone’s kids should read this book. People need to remember and know what happened in Nazi Germany and this perspective, from a common German girl’s viewpoint, is a great way to get a relatively unbiased viewpoint. I will definitely read anything else that Zusak writes; this book is a keeper.