Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Poison Spreads-The Book Thief

Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II.  And that is about all I know-neither of my grandfathers would talk about that time.  Perhaps that's why stories about World War II had always held a fascination for me.  In my teens, I read all of James Michener's books about his time in Japan.  I also discovered books like When Hitler Stole Pink RabbitNumber the Stars, and of course The Diary of Anne Frank.  I've watched countless documentaries and movies about the Holocaust.  And when I think about World War II, the images I have in my mind are of concentration camps and ovens.  But now I have a new vision to add to my understanding of the madness that was Hilter's Germany.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak takes place during World War II, and tells the story of 10 year old Liesel.  Her mother is forced to place her children into foster care.  Liesel's brother dies on the train taking her to Munich, where she is given into the care of a couple on Himmler Street.  Through the tough love of her foster mother, and the sweet compassion of her foster father, she finds a way to cope with not only her brothers death but the quickly declining standard of living in Germany.  Things go along OK, until the dark night that a Jew shows up at their door looking for sanctuary.

Despite the tragedy and the devastation contained within the story, when I think of a word to describe this book I can only say beautiful.  This book is so heartbreakingly beautiful, I could almost weep just from the use of language.  But the story is so compelling that even if it weren't written so beautifully I would have had a hard time putting it down.  So often books about World War II focus solely on the fate of the Jews-and rightfully so.  There is nothing so important as ensuring that the world never experiences that level of genocide-or any genocide-again.  But the fact is that most of the German people were suffering as well, and this book shows so clearly how the poison of hatred and fear spreads, and how it takes an incredible strength not to give in to the despair.  Despite the constant threat of being found out, of starvation, of being killed by bombs, Liesel and her parents held on to their humanity and compassion.

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