Friday, December 9, 2011

The Book Thief - A Guest Post By Derek Edward Ath.

A Good Day to you, for in truth it is one, but more of that later for as one is a guest here, politeness is paramount. Now, reason suggests you may be a tad curious as to why my presence is warranted here on The Parrish Lantern, although with all honesty reason played no part in my decision, it was merely a cocktail of curiosity and happenstance – some routine from my day job had me close by and I’m told I can be very persuasive. But enough of that, politeness again holds up it’s hand and suggest that I’ve prevaricated more than would be necessary for any building of suspense. 

cover pic3

The Book Thief by Australian writer Markus Zusak, although narrated by me (hadn’t you guessed?) is set in Nazi Germany and concerns Liesel Meminger, amongst others, although to be honest, it’s mainly her and her relationships with others and what a list of others there are, for example here are a few..

Hans Hubermann & Rosa Hubermann – foster parents

Max VandenburgJewish fist fighter

Rudy Steiner – friend

The residents of Himmel street (Himmel = Heaven)

Ilsa Hermann – the mayor's wife

Jesse Owen (although not in person)

The Nazis

Oh and we mustn’t forget Hitler, although like all great Bogymen, he’s best viewed looking down from some nightmare. This isn’t anywhere near the complete list but it will give you an idea of the Book thief's world.

We first see Liesel, beside a railway track with her mother and her brother (the reason I was there) and two railway guards arguing what they should do with the corpse, they had a lot less tact than I. After her brother is buried in some graveyard, Liesel and her mother continued their journey to Molching, where she would be fostered by Hans Hubermann & Rosa Hubermann. The reason for the fostering is to distance the children from their parents’ known communist sympathies.

It is at the graveyard where he brother lays, that Liesel steals her first book - The Grave Digger’s Handbook and although she cannot read, she keeps it as a reminder of her brother.

I believe I’ve mentioned curiosity before and, were it possible, I believe it would be the death of me (apologies for the humour, but it’s sometimes needed), anyway suffice it to say, curiosity got the better of me and I visited Liesel’s world a couple more times, the last time was heartrending, and yes contrary to rumour I do feel these things. Himmel street became hell on earth

“For hours the sky remained a devastating home-cooked red. the small German town had been flung apart one more time. Snowflakes of ash fell so lovelily you were tempted to stretch out your tongue to catch them, taste them. Only they would have scorched your lips. They would have cooked your mouth.”

And believe me when I say, I know of hell! “ I wanted to stop. To crouch down. I wanted to say. “I’m sorry child”. But that is not allowed. I did not crouch down. I did not speak.”. All I could do was watch and when she moved, so did I, at some point during that maelstrom of grief she dropped the book and at some point I picked it up.


LM Bookthief

It’s at this point in the current proceedings I think it wise, prudent and better still – of a polite nature -  to hand you back to the regular writer of The Parrish Lantern, but first I shall once again bid  a Good Day to you and to state that it is one - for now I leave empty-handed.

D. E. Ath.


It’s through death’s taking of the book we learn about Liesel’s world, about her wonderful foster father and her sharp tongued and yet immensely loving foster mother, we learn about a small town near Munich on a road that for some ends with Dachau. It's also through death, we learn of honour and courage, we learn the story of a Jewish fist fighter and we learn of love in all it’s many forms. We also learn of the absolute mundanity of evil -  from the sly boot when one is down right up to the subjugation and genocide of a people, because one of death’s problems is..

“I am haunted by humans”

The Book Thief

This was a book I had expected to dislike, it seemed to be not sure if it were a book for adults or proudly YA, like a teenager caught in a netherworld between these two points the book was fluctuating between both axis and yet…. I loved it. I read it because it is one of the books for World Book Night and I needed a book that my daughter and I could both get behind, both support with an understanding of it’s content (if asked by others). Did I say I loved it, that I have a queue of colleagues wanting to borrow this on the strength of my vocal adoration of it. This is a book about the power of language, of words and how they may appear inert, merely tools for our use to be put away when not needed, but in reality they have the power to change all, there’s a quote in The Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano, that with slight word change would fit here…

"The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every single damn thing matters! Only we don't realize. We just tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, and we don't realize that's a lie."

This is also a book of the ten separate books that map Liesel’s world, but they don’t delineate it, like all good maps they show what’s there, but also the paths to what isn’t. 



Anonymous said...

I love this guest post. :-)

Yes, this is not a YA book and I only heard people mention that it was, after I read it. I would not have thought so.

I didn't like the story as much as some people but I liked the perspective from inside Germany - I never knew much about what happened there during wwii.

Your list of characters: Rudy Steiner - you know there was this educator called Rudolph Steiner who had a philosophy on how to educate children? There are Steiner schools in the Netherlands. Not sure that has anything to do with this Rudy Steiner, though.

Bellezza said...

Although this book was well received, that doesn't hold true for me. I thought it was very clever to have DEATH narrate it; a different point of view was the only thing fresh from the terrible, sorrowful tales which come from WWII. They totally depress me, which I guess is part of the point (that we be reminded of the horrors evil evokes).

Now I feel badly leaving such a negative response on a well written post. It isn't toward you, dear Parrish, nor your guest writer, only my response to Mr. Zusak's work.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed The Book Thief - it was very different. Great post

Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

Pebbleddash said...

Loved it. I banged on about it quite a bit after I read it but haven't been able to get many people to have interest in reading it. I've heard some bad reviews of this book which I deflected instantly. The horror! Any book that stirs emotions inside of me is considered excellent.

Great guest post too! Always nice to hear from Death :)

Col (Col Reads) said...

I loved this post, but still can't bring myself to read the book. After all I've read about Hitler's Germany, I realize how horrible it was, and truly grieve for the lives lost. But since I can't change anything about it, the only emotion I feel when I read about the Nazis is frustration.

Still, I'm glad so many others have found this book inspiring, and I hope to read Mr. Zusak's work on another topic.

Unknown said...

Very interesting :) This isn't one I've got around to so far (and I am aware of the 'YA or not YA?' issue). Sometimes it's good to have an unorthodox narrator!

Speaking of which, there'll be one of those on my blog later today ;)

Mel u said...

I read this book about 2.5 years ago-I enjoyed it a lot-as to your honored guest reviewer, here is hoping he does not decide to pay an unexpected visit to any one near term!

My 13 year old daughter's class in Manila was assigned to read The Book Thief-they also learned about Holocaust which is great-it did prompt questions like "Dad, why did Hitler hate the Jews so much"?- said...

Wonderful guest post. I hadn't heard of the book, but I'm definitely intrigued now. Thanks for sharing.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Judith,I didn't know about the schools, I think Just coincidence And this is the second book with the Nazi setting I've read this year & may favourite of the two.

Hi Bellezza, Although it was obviously dark, I though it also had a lot of humour & ultimately I didn't find it depressing but quite redemptive, as it was about the power of language, words as much as it was about Nazi Germany.

Hi Shelleyrae , Yes it was a surprise to me, how much I ended up loving this book.

Hi Kevin,In total agreement, a book that can make you laugh, smile, cry, and at so unsure which ones appropriate, has to worth the time invested in it. keep banging on about, grind them down.

Hi Col, Please read it, it's worth the investment, I've read it(obviously) my 10 year old daughters reading & loving it & my wife is waiting (im)patiently to read it. Yes it's about a horrid point in history, but that's just a setting, the book's about so much more.

Hi Tony, give it a go, add it to your Aussie writers list, it's a fantastic addition to the usual German perspective from this period.

Hi Mel, It's a great read, I'm hoping your daughter enjoyed it as my much as mine is now.

Hi lena, try and find it if you can, it will definitely repay your investment, as it's a wonderful read.