The Symbolism of Death in the Book Thief
A small fact: “you are going to die“ 1939. Nazi Germany: The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel a nine-year-old girl is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. (Zusak, 2005)
Nazi Germany, just before world war two was about to start is where Australian Author Markus Zusak decided would be the setting of his new book – The Book Thief. The eye-opening book was first published in 2005 by Picador. The book Thief is narrated by Death himself but in no way is death portrayed as sinister or evil but rather someone who is compassionate and who takes pity on Liesel, he feels sympathy for all of his victims.
The book surrounds the life of Liesel who is taken to live with a new family because her mother cannot afford to look after her and her brother anymore after their dad who was a communist is taken to concentration camp. On their way to their foster family Liesel’s brother dies, while burying him, her life changes when she steals her first book called “The Gravedigger’s Handbook “. Liesel always keeps this book close to her heart as it is the last remaining link to her brother and real family that she has left. Liesel and her new Papa set out reading the book every night before bed until they finish it, before this Liesel could not read. Liesel is very disruptive when she is at school and ends up fighting with boys. Slowly Liesel becomes a thief – her item of choice is books, she has no particular type just any book that she can get her hands on. Reading becomes her way of coping with the world going on around her and in the end is the reason she lives. Rosa who is Liesel’s new “Mama” is someone who can be describe as showing tough-love because she beats Liesel with a wooden spoon however right before the end of the book she is describe as a “good woman for a crisis “, she shows compassion towards Max who is a Jewish boxer that takes shelter in the Hubermann basement for a while. Hans owes Maxes dad who is dead a favour and so they take him in and hide him.
Max and Liesel grow exceptionally close as they can both relate to feeling the loss of loved ones and the fact that the two of them have a deep hatred for Hitler. Max feels guilty for leaving his family but at the same time he is relieved that he gets to live while they die – this guilt lives inside of him and is the reason that he fights so hard to survive everything that he goes through. Both Liesel and Max have grief that they must deal with and overcome however they are different, the grief that Liesel goes through is because of the choices someone else in her life made whereas Max’s grief is a consequence of the choice he made, and he will forever have to live with that.
As the war is progressing – death takes the lives of more and more people. The air raids happen more frequently. Max decides that he can no longer stay with the Hubermann family as he is putting them in danger and so he leaves but before he leaves, he paints over the pages of “Mein Kampf “and gives it to Liesel to use. Everyone except for Liesel was sleeping when the bomb that was not meant for Himmel Street fell – she was the only survivor in Himmel Street. The mayor and his wife took Liesel in and she died in Sydney but not before Liesel and Death talk about life and about her book. Death says that he is “haunted by humans“. This book is definitely an eyeopener because many books that are written about Nazi Germany are written from an outsider’s perspective and people living in Germany are seen as evil, but this book shows that they are also victims of the war. They also faced hardships and lost loved ones as well as the countries also at war. You do not realise the effect that the book has on you until the end when you realise how much Liesel has had to go through as a child, the sadness slowly creeps up on you and you catch yourself surrounded by sadness when you read the last pages and close the book.
Zusak choosing Death as a narrator is different to books that I have read in the past because usually a narrator is a character that is actively involved in the book or the book/story revolves around them however this is not the case. By death being the narrator, it gives us as readers an insight as to what is going on around Germany and not just on Himmel Street.
Many have said that they do not think that this book was written for children however, I believe that this book is good for young adults because it shows them the reality of what was happening and opens up their minds to new ideas and allows them to learn things that they might not have been exposed to at school. I would highly recommend reading this book even if you have no interest of world war two and Nazi Germany because the story line is beautifully written and easy to follow although it does take some time getting into.
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