Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Book Thief...

The book thief

     I have to admit that I read The Book Thief in the worst possible way. I sat down and read the whole thing in one sitting. Yep! Six hours of nothing, but reading. Unfortunately, I know that I cheated myself out of some of the understanding of the book and my mind didn't have enough time to process all of the things that took place inside the story. This is a book that you need to read a chapter or two and then process the information you have learned before you move on to the rest of the story. Since I wasn't able to do that I am going to focus on the things that I questioned the most and then plan on rereading the book sometime in the future to figure the rest out. 

     The Book Thief is the story of a young girl that loses everything, and is placed with a foster family. We know that her brother has died, that her mother disappears, and that her father was a "Kommunist," a term that she did not understand. We never learn of her background or what happens to her parents, but we suspect it wasn't good.  After arriving on Himmel Street, Liesel learns to trust and love her new parents, makes friends, and most importantly learns to read. In the background, Hitler is marching Germany and it's people into World War II. A young Jew, Max, comes to be hidden in the family's basement and he, along with her Papa help her understand the meaning and importance of words. As the was rage around them, Liesel continues to fight for survival even when Max is forced back out into the violent war and Papa is drafted into the army. When Papa returns from the battle field, Liesel feels that her life is repairing itself. Unfortunately it only takes a few planes with bombs, and Liesel love of words to turn her whole world upside down again.     

     Since someone had announced that Death was the narrator in the class, I started the book knowing that he was telling the story. I liked him as a narrator, he had a subtle sense of humor, and he seemed to have more compassion than many of the humans in the story. At the beginning of the story he has "A Small Theory-People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to to me its's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellow, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them." (p. 4) He then goes on to say that as Death, he could not take a real vacation so "Needless to say, I vacation in increments. In colors." (p. 5) He then goes on to talk about when he reflects on his meeting with the main character Liesel, three colors resonate the most: red, white, and black. Then throughout the story he mentions the colors when he comes to claim the souls. I keep expecting to figure out what the colors represented. Was white for the death of an innocence,? Was black the color for the damned? What about red was that the color of massive deaths? Why were colors so important? What did they symbolize in the story?

     One issue that I noted was that Death liked to talk about the past, present, and future in his narrative. He often slipped between time frames making it difficult to follow the story at times. I also noticed that some chapters had the date included while others did not, and some just gave a vague description such as "spring" with no year. I found myself rereading passages and going back chapters looking for the time frame of when this particular section occurred. At the end of the story Liesel begins measuring time from her father's return, but the story then jumps to the march of the Jews through town and Liesel getting whipped for refusing to leave the parade of souls. There were also large parts of the story that happened at one point in time, but then time would skip for months or years to the next section with little notice to the reader. One part that I could not believe was that Max could have served two years in a German Concentration camp; I know that could have never happened. I guess it was Death's fault that the story is told in such a jumbled way. He has plenty of time, he has seen and will see everything that happens in the world. He says "There's a multitude of stories (a mere handful, as I have previously suggested) that I allow to distract me as I work, just as the colors do. I pick them up in the unluckiest, unlikeliest places and I make sure to remember them as I go about my work. The Book Thief is one such story". (p.549) Things make perfect sense to him.  

     The last thing that I didn't understand in this story was how could humans be so cruel to each other. How could they turn on those who choose the right path instead of the easy path. Death give us "the thought process of Hans Hubermann--He was not well-educated or political, but if nothing else, he was a man who appreciated fairness. A Jew had once saved his life and he couldn't forget that. he couldn't join a party that antagonized people in such a way. Also, much like Alex Steiner, some of his most loyal customers were Jewish. Like many of the Jews believed, he didn't think the hatred could last, and it was a conscious decision not to follow Hitler. On many levels, it was a disastrous one. (p. 100) Hans Hubermann lived his life being kind. He repainted a Jewish shop owner's door when slurs were left there, he didn't join a party of hatred, he took in a homeless child of questionable background, and he lost his only son over political ideology. This goodness in him actually increased his families danger when he handed a piece of stale bread to a Jew on parade. His caring action caused Max to have to flee from their home, and got him quickly drafted to a dangerous military rescue assignment. Even once he was in Hitler's dreaded  army, he chose to do the right thing. He shared the cigarettes that he won at cards, and even gave up his seat on the truck. That act of kindness saved his life. How could doing the right thing not the easy thing end up costing he and those he loved the most their life?

     I know that this is a beautifully written piece of young adult literature, however I can't get past the great sadness that it has caused me as I read it and reflect on it. It serves the genre of historical fiction perfectly. It represents a period in time that we can not and would not want to live through and allows us to experience it through a fictional character. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm impressed that it only took you six hours to get through it! I think it took me about ten. I didn't really get the colors and why he referenced them throughout the book. Did certain colors represent the disposition of the dead or how they died? Looking forward to talking about it!