This week includes both National Libraries Day and International Book Giving Day, so our book review is about the importance of reading and books. We recently featured posts on the Holocaust for Holocaust Memorial Day ( https://ccnlibraryblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/about-holocaust-memorial-day/) and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is set during the same period in Nazi Germany. It was made into a film that is soon to be released.
The Book Thief has a near-unique narration style as the narrator is Death, not the Grim Reaper but an altogether kinder version. Death focuses on little moments of life and notices a young girl he calls the Book Thief crying about her young brother’s death and on her way to live with a foster family in Molching.
Liesel Meminger, the Book Thief, cannot read so when she picks up a book from the snow it is more as a reminder of her brother’s death than out of interest in its contents. However, her foster-father teaches her to read and she begins to understand why books are valuable. Liesel finds her first book, and then rescues her second book from a book-burning pyre designed to purge immorality and suppress art and ideas that were unacceptable to the Nazi party. Her next books are stolen from the library of the wife of the Mayor of Molching, when she kindly allows Liesel access to her book collection. Meanwhile, her foster parents hide a Jewish prize-fighter called Max Vandenburg in their basement to try and save him from the concentration camps.
The love of books runs throughout The Book Thief. It examines the importance of books in the most difficult times and the way they are attacked by the Nazis as a way of oppressing people. The immense value Liesel attaches to the single book she has at the beginning is in contrast to the way the Mayor’s wife is so free with her own books. Liesel’s bonding with Max Vandenburg is through stories and even when Liesel has lots of books, she can account for each and every one of them, why they are important and when she got them.
The Book Thief is a beautifully-written tribute to the value of books in our lives and how a single book can change how you see the world. It is a story of friendships built around shared stories and experiences, and about the bond that one person sharing a book with another can create. While we wouldn’t encourage anyone to steal books from our library (please leave them so others can enjoy them too!), I hope that this book in the I Love Libraries week will encourage people to try something new and share in the experience of reading.
Find The Book Thief at our Norfolk House site (NORFOLK HOUSE 823.92) and, while you’re there, celebrate the awesomeness of books by picking up or donating a book at the Book Exchange during its launch at Norfolk House tomorrow!
If you liked The Book Thief…
Try The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish novel about the mysterious Cemetery of Lost Books and a novel that is a danger to those who own it (BOOK ZONE 823.91).
Get some suggestions for what to read next by browsing Pure Pleasure: a Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books (BOOK ZONE 028.10904) and 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (BOOK ZONE 800).
Book-burning has existed as a form of censorship and oppression for thousands of years (and even has its own special terms: biblioclasm or libricide). The Nazi “cleansing” or “Säuberung” is one of the most famous book burnings in history and accompanied the persecution of many writers. Read a book one of these banned or persecuted authors to celebrate the freedom of ideas:
Bertolt Brecht’s Fear and Misery in the Third Reich (BOOK ZONE 832.91)
Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories (BOOK ZONE 833.91)
Herman Hesse’s Narziss and Goldmund (BOOK ZONE 833.91)
Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (BOOK ZONE 833.91)