Manic Motherhood at it's FINEST!!

Why "I am NOT a VOLCANO!"

Why "I am NOT a VOLCANO!"
click the volcano for the due explanation
"In all of living, have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." — Gordon B. Hinckley
Exaggeration is the spice of life

Book I am Currently Reading: Peter and The Shadow Thief

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Book Thief.

Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist- books. Soon she is steal ling books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever they are to be found.

With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

First of all, I have to thank my sister in law for giving me this book. It was for Christmas, and she made sure I knew that it is her very favorite, and she hoped that I would share it with many people and that it's cover would be cracked on many occasions.

What better occasion do I have to share it with many people than discussing it in a book club?

Well, I was pleasantly engulfed in this book, and I simply couldn't put it down, despite my children and their need of me every second of every day.

First of all, I was surprised at Death's narration, and at first, I was a little unnerved. However, I soon discovered that Death was kind. Especially given the circumstances of the book (World War II set in Nazi Germany) He talks about how he scoops up humans and cradles them in his arms, and he sees their colors in the sky, and the good or bad of the souls. We know from the very beginning that Death can not seem to avoid Liesel Meminger. Each time he encounters her, he lingers just a little too long, and she enchants him. We know from the start that she is a Sole Survivor, and that everyone she knows dies.

First, there is her brother. Then Rudy, her would-be boyfriend. Last, her foster father and mother, Hans and Rosa Hubermann.

To be honest, when i read this book, I wasn't planning a book club. I wasn't planning questions to ask and I wasn't looking at metaphors. More than anything- more than writing a summery or answering questions, I really just want to talk about what I loved, and about my feelings about the book. (I PROMISE that I will be more organized for the next book, and that I will have more of a traditional book club format for this, but this time, I wasn't really prepared.)

What I did notice throughout the book was how human things were. I was awed and inspired by the accuracy of the children portrayed in this novel. I loved the relationships Liesel had, with her foster mother, her best friend Rudy, the mayors wife, the Jewish man hidden in her basement, and most of all, her foster father, Hans Hubermann.

Liesel- The main character. Through her eyes, we see the pain and desolation of Nazi Germany, but we also see hope, the small slivers of happiness and human drive to survive. All the relationships are hers, and we can see how her soul is strengthened and blessed, and sometimes weighed down by those she loves. Liesel has a kind spirit, despite her criminal impulse to steal books (among other things, like produce from local farms) When the bombs come, Liesel uses her most prized possessions (her books) to calm the terrified hearts of her friends and neighbors in the basement shelter. Liesel steals books because, to her, it's like 'taking something back', like, being able to have something that belonged to her in right.

Rudy- Probably my very favorite character. Rudy is Liesel's first friend on Himmel Street. He is her best friend, her cohort, her protector, and her would-be boyfriend, though Liesel never kisses him until he is dead. Rudy is always fighting for the underdog. He, also, has a tender soul and cannot stand to see unfairness in the works. On many occasions, he stands up for Liesel, and in his Hitler Youth classes, he takes a lot of heat for fighting against the youth leader, who continually abuses one of the boys in the group, who cannot hear well because of constant ear infections. Rudy also had a competitive streak. Upon winning 3 of 4 races in a Hitler Youth Field day, men come to take him to a camp to learn to become a soldier. His parents turn them down, and as a result, his father, a tailor, is sent away to assist the Nazi soldiers on the front lines by mending their uniforms. Rudy's father later blames himself for Rudy's death, because if he had just let him go be a soldier, he wouldn't have been on Himmel Street when it was bombed, and he might not have died.

Rosa Hubermann- Rosa is Liesel's foster mother, "mama" and on all occasions calls her 'dirty pig', and makes her collect and deliver the laundry from the more wealthy people of the town, which she does for a little money on the side. Rosa is a harsh woman, but she loves Leisel dearly in her own way, and we soon learn that she calls everyone "dirty pig"- especially those she loves, which includes her husband.

Hans Hubermann- I cannot help but feel that this story was as much his as it was Liesel's. I believe he was the kindest man in the story, and that his soul was good and clean. When Liesel first arrives at their home, having left her 6 year old brother in a grave along the way, it is Hans "papa" who calms her and helps her feel comfort. He holds her each night, when she wakes with her nightmares, and he teaches Liesel how to read through patience and long nights in their shallow basement. Hans is complicated. (Death does not address his complexity in order, but i will for the sake of organization.)

Hans fought in World War I with a Jewish man who taught him how to play his accordion. He became a best friend to Hans, and once, his friend made it possible for him to stay behind in the camp from the fight to write letters for their superior. His friend died in his place, along with the entire division, when they were bombed. Upon delivering his friend's accordion to his young wife, he meets her then 4-year old son named Max, and he tells the woman that if she should ever need help, that she can always count on him.

Liesel's father has 2 children. One is a girl, and is pretty much inconsequential to the book. But his son is a full blown Nazi, and early on in the book, he walks out of the house, never to return because Hans has not yet been accepted into the Nazi party because of "mistakes" he makes when he paints over slurs on the door of a Jewish friend's door.

Not long after Liesel arrives at the Hubermann's home, a Jewish man arrives at the doorstep and begins hiding in their basement. He is the now 24 year old son of Han's war friend, hiding from the Nazis. Liesel soon becomes good friends with Max, and they share many touching moments as they compare nightmares, and Max writes books for her on painted pages of Hitler's book "Mien Kampf"

Han's true compassion is revealed in completion when Nazis march ankle-chained Jews through Himmel Street, and an elderly man continually stumbles and falls to the ground. Hanz, unable to stand the sight of it, takes a part of a loaf of bread and helps the man up, giving him the bread to eat. He and the old man are whipped, and a few Nazi supporters on Himmel Street spit on his door, and and call him racial slurs. That night, Max has to leave for fear that the Nazis will come looking because of what Hans did. They don't come, but Hans is 'accepted' into the Nazi party, and sent on a suicide mission (cleaning up during and after air raids) for the war.

When Hans dies in his sleep during an unannounced bombing raid, (along with everyone else on Himmel Street except for Liesel) Death says that his soul was sitting up, and that good souls like his always sit up. They have lived full, good lives. Liesel's soul does the same.

Max- Max is a Jew. And he is hiding. He has a special (not romantic- more of an older brother type) relationship with Liesel. They are confidants, and friends. Max has a lot of guilt about being the one to survive when his mother and aunts and uncles, including his infantile cousins, were not spared.

Later on, after Max is gone, Liesel and Rudy take bread crumbs and hide in the trees outside of Himmel Street while the Nazis march the Jews through the town. They throw them out onto the street and the Jews are able to scoop them up as they walk. They get caught, and Leisel gets kicked, but they escape.

After Max is gone, whenever the Jews are marched through the streets, Liesel walks along side them, searching their faces for Max until she is shoved back to the edge of the road. Once, she does find him, and they both cry and hold each other, touching faces and holding hands until the Nazis whip her and Rudy has to drag her home.

Throughout the book, we meet many neighbors, both truly Nazi, and those who are just scared. There are is an old woman who has one son who dies at war, and another who kills himself because he feels guilty for wanting to live when he knows he should want to die because of what he has seen.

We meet Ilsa Hermann, the Mayor's wife, who lets Leisel read in her library every week when she picks up the laundry until she disappoints her because they can no longer pay for their laundry to be done, and Liesel starts stealing her books through the large window that Ilsa leaves open at all times. She does this so that her house will always remain cold because she had a son who froze to death in his youth. It's her way of punishing herself.

We meet other children, both kind and mean spirited.

I think that the thing that got to me the most about this book is the misery. When we hear about the Holocaust, we always hear about the Jews, and the showers, and the camps and the nakedness, the suffering, and the terror.

I remember once, there was an authentic Holocaust photography exhibit that came to my college campus and was up for about 3 months. I was like a moth to a flame, and went every day. It felt like hallowed ground, like treading softly would somehow show them the respect they died without.

The point is, the Holocaust was awful, and shocking, especially for the Jewish people. But what is almost always overlooked is that it was awful and shocking for everyone. Even the blonde haired, blue eyed Hitler Youth, and the Nazi Party, and the Christians. Everyone was terrified. Everyone was hungry and cold while they waited on heat, light, and food rations. Everyone was hiding from something. The Germans were scared. They were scared for their children, and their own lives. Everyone suffered and NO ONE escaped.

This book was excellently written. I have not read any of Markus Zusak's other books, but I give this book 5 stars. It is literary genious. It was eye opening and surprising.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I must need to go back and read that again (you know, since I've only read it a billion times). I always forget stuff that I read. I am SOOO glad you loved this book. I'm happy I shared it with you.

I'm NOT a VOLCANO! said...

Steph- my brother read it too! He called me on the way home from work, and told me he read it in like 3 days so he could participate in this discussion. he's busy, so he doesn't know when he'll be able to post, but we talked for like an hour about it, and he had some great insight. You should check back to see what he says.

Biege said...

Wow, I'm kind of surprised that there aren't a million comments here. I'm sure next month more people will participate (hint hint).

I have decided that there is not enough that can be said about this book. I read it in only a few days (partially to finish before month end but mostly) because I couldn't put it down. The story captivated me, terrified me, worried me, made me smile, and opened my eyes.

I wish that I had hours to type and describe my thoughts. The literary style of The Book Thief impressed me almost as much as the story. I loved the 'taste' of all the colors and the strange ways the narrator (Death) described human nature.

One of my favorite characters was Hans (aka Papa). He impresses me in ways I can't begin to describe, though I will try. His kindness is amazing and his resolve is incredible. He helps Max, the Jewish man, even with the odds and the danger stacked against him. He is a protector, a provider (even in hard times), the Teacher, and the entertainment. To me, he is one of the great Heroes of the book. He is the epitome of courage and selflessness. He reminds me so much of my father.

Like I said before, there are so many wonderful things about this book. I would list it among my favorites and I am glad that I decided to read it. It is not my typical read, but I trust Brae and those around her (Steph) to pick some awesome material. I am looking forward to the books to come.

I Highly recommend (Demand!) that you read this book.

I'm NOT a VOLCANO! said...

Thanks, Biege!

Yes, Hans DOES remind me of dad. I thought it many times throughout the book. He was quiet in his way, and in his service, and he always gave of himself. He was humble.

One of my favorite parts of the book was where Hanz was talking to Liesel after the book burning, where she stole her second book. She said she hated Hitler, and he slapped her full on across the face.

I know. that's a weird part to have as my favorite, huh? But it's my favorite because you can see in him his absolute love for her. His terror that someone would hear her, and do worse damage to her than his hand ever could. To me, while this book was choc full of human accuracy and emotion, and complexity, that moment summed it all up. I have never smacked my children's faces. But I can see why he would do that, and why I too, in such a situation, would find it apropriate. It WAS apropriate, and it got the point across. A child who couldn't understand the absolute danger of the world around her, needed him to do taht to her. She needed to know how serious he was. And it broke his own heart to do it. Still, Liesel trusted him all the more for it.

Something that this book did to me, too, was make me wonder what I would do, and who I was. I would LIKE to think that I'd be just like Hanz. That i would keep my promise and hide the Jewish man, that I would feel so much compassion in my heart for the poor old man that I would risk everything to help him.

I am pretty dang sure that I could never be someone who painted the anti-jew slurs on their doors, or broke their windows or terrorized them. I cannot stand a person's violence against another person, and that would not be me. But I can't guarantee that I wouldn't join the Nazi party. I can't say that I wouldn't be selfish with our family's rations, and keep it all to us. It worries me that I would not help a person like Max.

Growing up, I always though I'd be that kind of person. And maybe, as a child, I would have been. Kids, while teachable and moldable, are also unbending in the ways they feel. Now, though, having children of my own, I am not sure I could have put them into that danger. Having been caught, they would have been sent to the same camps and environments and deaths as the Jews. Where is that fine line between protecting your family, and doing what was right? What WAS right? This is one spot where I truly truly do not know what is right and what is wrong.

Throughout reading this book, I had a recurring dream where I was living with my family in the top floor of a fairly tall building. And Hitler came to visit. He carried a gun made of brown glass, like it came from a bottle, and he just came and sat on our couch and watched us, and occasionally talked. Every time I said anything, he would shoot at me, and miss. So I kept my mouth shut. ANd my children played around him. I was terrified that he was going to take Scarlet because she's blonde with blue eyes and make her a Nazi, and that he was going to take Brandon, lilly and Mahone and me and put us in a camp because we all have brown eyes and dark hair. I would sit and look at him, and think that between my husband and I we could over take him. We could rise up. There were 2 of us, and only 1 of him. There had to be a plan that would work. There HAD to be. But I was paralysed with fear. And I would wake with a sob in my throat and my heart beating too fast.

Annette Piper said...

My sister in law read this at Christmas and just cried and cried and cried. Said it was a brilliant book, but just so sad.

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