The Book Thief and the power of words

The Book ThiefWhen you start a book and the narrator is the voice of Death, you know you won’t be reading a happy book.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak definitely wasn’t the happiest of tales – it takes place in a small German town during the heart of the Second World War after all. Through Death’s eyes, we’re introduced to Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is seeing her young brother die as she rides on a train with him and her mother. At the next stop they find a grave yard to bury him, and this is where Liesel finds her first book,The Grave Digger’s Handbook.

We find out that Liesel and her brother were being sent to foster parents as her mother escaped persecution for her and her husband’s alleged Communist leanings. Liesel, alone, is raised by Rosa and Hans Hubermann who appear to be the most opposite of people. Rosa is crass, loud and always calling everyone a Saukerl or “Pig” and Hans is a gentle painter who plays the accordion and has a personality that draws Liesel in and helps her open up to her new surroundings.

Throughout the rest of the story, Death, though admittedly busy during those years, takes a keen interest in Liesel’s life as she attends school and grows into her teen years, stealing more books along the way and learning to read them through the help of her foster father.

What I found interesting about much of the book was that Zusak focuses on the lives of the characters as war is happening around them, but since it’s through the lens of a young girl (as relayed by Death), it doesn’t go into too much detail about explaining the politics of the time. We find out that Hans doesn’t support the Nazi party, but still hangs a flag whenever a parade passes through; Liesel and her friend Rudy Steiner are forced to steal food because of rationing throughout the country; And, Rosa’s laundry businesses that she runs from home begins to suffer as the wealthier neihbours become unable to afford her services.

It’s not until Hans answers a promise made long ago by taking in a Jewish man by the name of Max Vandenburg that the story becomes truly serious. Max is extremely malnourished when he arrives, but soon he establishes a close bond with Liesel. The two have frequent nightmares about losing loved ones and also enjoy storytelling. Their bond grows as Max shares his stories with her.

One of the stories spoke of how Hitler rose to power, not with his fists or guns, but with words. Zusak often brings up the power of words and what they can do to people, both good and bad. When bomb raids began approaching their town, they congregated in a local basement and Liesel began reading to everyone there. The words calmed everyone and made them briefly forget that at any moment, they could die.

We have to remind ourselves that words matter. They can persuade you to do anything from buying a product to persecuting an entire race of people. The Book Thief does an excellent job of getting this point across and as a communicator for a living, I can appreciate his message. If you’re a lover of words, then I recommend reading this one. I give The Book Thief a 4/5.

The Household Guide to Dying – Reviewed

It’s been over a month since my last book review. The Household Guide to Dying by Deborah Adelaide caught my eye on the bookstore shelf, as I’m sure it has for many, with that title. It is a bout Delia, a copywriter-turned-novelist, who writes household guide books to everyday things, like laundry, for example. The difference with this one is a bit more serious. Delia has cancer, and it has pretty much spread throughout her body. She came up with the idea to write The Household Guide to Dying, since she was now an expert on it.

The book, while somewhat sad at some points, generally pokes fun at societies thoughts of dying. One chapter, when Delia is researching for coffins, she pokes fun at the fact that the funeral home representative kept referring to them as caskets, and dying as passing on (and other variations).

Delia also travels back in time to try and resolve some of her issues from her past, like saying good bye to her first child, who she had over 20 years prior that died from the result of a car hitting him. She closes old wounds and revisits old friendships as well, so there are some more serious memories that she has to deal with, just done with a bit of humor for the most part.

It took me quite a while to get into book 16 of my 26 for the year, which is why I suppose it took so long to read. I ended up enjoying it, though it probably won’t be making a “Top X” list of mine. I give The Household Guide to Dying a 2.5/5

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