'It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel's father was taken away on the breath of a single, unfamiliar word - Kommunist - and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother's eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.'
[Source: Libraries Australia. Sighted 30/10/08]
An adaptation of Marcus Zusak's novel.
This work is affiliated with the AustLit subset Asian-Australian Children's Literature and Publishing because it has Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Korean translations.
The Book Thief is indexed as an adult book, but the affiliation applies because it has been reviewed as a young adult text, and has also won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.
'In this paper I argue that Markus Zusak's The Book Thief allows for the personal and collective exculpation of the common or ‘ordinary’ citizens of Germany who lived through the Third Reich. By drawing on the German historian Martin Broszat and his historiographical study of ‘everyday’ life under Nazi rule, I establish that the novel creates a number of contentious themes. First, it suggests that the Nazis were a group who resided on the periphery of German society, and that the rise of Hitler's Third Reich was unpopular among the general German population. Second, while Germans later became victims of Allied bombings and/or Russian invasion, the population was also victim to the nation's political situation. In arguing that German citizens were victims of the Nazis, The Book Thief separates a supposed ‘demonic’ social minority from the ‘everyday’ working class. Depicting the German lower classes as innocent bystanders or victims, the book allows its readers and, in particular, its German readers, to reflect upon this tumultuous historical period with some cultural and social moral fortitude intact. Furthermore, the paper suggests that this novel is just one example of a corpus of Australian texts that have, in recent years, reconfigured traditional literary representations of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust.'
'For the third consecutive year, the local young adult title The Book Thief has snaffled the No 1 spot in the Dymocks Top 101 survey, an annual list of readers’ favourite books' (Rosemary Neill).
The Book Thief "is set in a realistically depicted German town and could belong to the genre of historical realism were it not that Liesel’s story is narrated by the other-worldly character: Death. Death is the only unreal character in this otherwise realistic novel, and though he does not interact with real human characters, we see all the events through his eyes. This ‘magical’ narrator unveils a broader history of the war and the Holocaust by questioning: What is real? What is normal? What is humane? The inversion enables Zusak to present horror that would otherwise be too complex to grasp. As Hegerfeldt comments: ‘The world is an absurd place where [...] anything is more believable than the truth. Magic realist fiction proposes that such a topsy-turvy reality requires a similarly inverted approach’ (Hegerfeldt 2005, p. 339). In order to clarify how inversion works, I focus on four central binarisms evident in Death’s narrative: the portrayal of the supernatural as natural; humans as ghosts; real as surreal; and presenting life as death. Although these categories are somewhat over-simplified, I suggest that for the child and young adult reader this inversion creates the image of the war as something completely irrational and abnormal. Although the novel has attracted adult readers, my interest lies in explicating how this narrative strategy increases the potential for younger readers to engage with horrifying material, without assuming that they have prior knowledge of the historical events. Inversion is a writing strategy which seems particularly well suited to reaching a YA readership, encouraging teenagers to read about a topic they might otherwise avoid. The goal of this paper is to clarify how this strategy functions in The Book Thief and the subsequent demands it makes of its readers." (Introduction)