Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Book Thief

Adult Themes: 3
Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Ratings Explanation
Language: There is considerable swearing and profanity (over 100 instances combined), both in German and English. Most is translated, some is not.  “Slut” and “whore” used several times. Several derogatory names used for Jews, “swine”, “rat”, “filth”.
Violence:  A handful of school yard and street fights, involving both Liesel and Rudy, including hitting, kicking, kneeing in ribs, and cutting off a boy’s hair with a knife. Liesel’s step mother beats her with a wooden spoon until she is laying on the floor. Her school teacher also gives her a licking with a stick. While a group of Jews is paraded down the street as they march to Dachau, Hans gives an old man a piece of bread. A German soldier whips both of them. During another parade Liesel sees a Jewish friend and goes to him, they are also whipped. Many cities are bombed and thousands die. A plane crashes near a town and the people find the dying pilot in his downed plane. Gas chambers and extermination camps referenced, but not described.
Sexual Content: Rudy repeatedly asks Liesel for a kiss, but she always refuses. Rudy tells Liesel he had to strip down completely naked for a physical exam. In her mind’s eye she pictures his glowing naked body.
 Adult Themes:  Liesel’s father is a communist in Nazi Germany and disappears. Her mother is unable to feed and care for her children so she takes Liesel and her brother to a foster home, but on the train ride to Munich Liesel’s brother dies. Liesel deals with abandonment and grief for her lost family. The extreme conditions in which the average German lived during the war. During the course of the book, Liesel steals several books and she and Rudy steal apples, potatoes and a basket of food meant for the priests. They have had so many things taken from them in the course of the war (family, food, security, childhood), that stealing something back for themselves becomes a triumph.  Brief description of “Kristallnacht” when Jewish businesses are vandalized. Treatment of Jews as non-humans. Liesel’s foster parents hide a Jew in their basement, the punishment for which is death. At a certain point in the story he has to leave their home, but has nowhere to go so they are very worried about what will become of him. The aftermath of bombed cities, people searching for missing loved ones, complete destruction of neighborhoods and the people in them.
At nine years of age, Liesel Meminger has buried her little brother, bid her mother goodbye, moved in with a foster family and stolen her first book. There will be more books to steal and more loved ones to bury, but first Liesel’s story must be told. With Death as the narrator, The Book Thief follows Liesel through the war years on Himmel  Street in Molching, Germany where she learns to read, steal, love and write.
Zusak is a masterful writer, his descriptions capture the everyday in an unusual way, like passengers sliding out from a train “as if from a torn package” only to find their same old problems “waiting at the end of the trip - the relative you cringe to kiss.”
The book’s characters are unforgettable. I was in awe of Liesel and the strength she posessed.  I fell in love with Rudy and the man he could have become. Max, the Jew in hiding, who gives Liesel the great gift of words and boxes Hitler in the basement. Death even endeared himself to me with his quirky humor wondering if anyone was ever injured while standing too close to someone heil Hitlering and his ironic fear of humans. Rosa, the foul-mouthed step-mother who honestly loved the girl she berated and Hans, the sweet step-father with the silver eyes. Zusak creates a set of characters never to be forgotten.
While this is a wonderful book, there is considerable content to digest. I would recommend this book for a mature teen, late high school or older.
 ©2009 The Literate Mother

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