The creative genius of Markus Zusak has again received acclaim for ‘the Book Thief’ – this time in his mother’s homeland, Germany. Alongside another Aussie, Shaun Tan, Markus was awarded a prize by winning in a major category at the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis, Germany’s most prestigious awards for children’s and YA books.
That he should receive such acclaim for a book written about the (fictional) experience of Liesel Meminger, a child in Nazi Germany, is quite a triumph. But not one we are surprised by however, given the extraordinary tale Markus has woven; one recognised by many awards since its publication in 2005.
According to Markus, The Book Thief is a small story. (With 584 pages, I wonder how he might tell a large story?) Though it covers many pages, it is masterful and intriguing to read – so you regret when it finishes. It is an emotional ride, as Liesel navigates childhood years amid the experience of WWII, which makes the adult world even more mystifying than usual.
What she has to do to find enough to eat, to make sense of the treatment of Jews and to remain human in the frenetic world of bombing raids and persecution describe the tale. Unique friendships and creative ways to survive, bring connections through the book, as Liesel brings people together using books; stolen and shared as they huddle from the outside world in the safety of a basement.
While often referred to as Zusak’s first adult book, ‘the Book Thief’ also has great appeal for the mature young adult reader – especially those with an interest in WWII perspectives from a child’s point of view. That the tale is narrated by Death may be offputting to some, but it enables an interesting and unique way of judging mankind.
In the opinion of German judges in the abovementioned awards:
‘many individual stories of the experience of youth in the Second World War have been written, but none match up to the narrative of this book.’
Many older reviews are available online, which recommend that both adults and young adults read ‘the Book Thief’, so can you argue with that? Have you read ‘the Book Thief’? What did think of it?
Ardagh, Philip. January 6, 2007. It’s a Steal, the Guardian. ‘Unsettling, thought-provoking, life-affirming, triumphant and tragic, this is a novel of breathtaking scope, masterfully told. It is an important piece of work, but also a wonderful page-turner. I cannot recommend it highly enough.’
Green, John. May 14, 2005. Fighting for their Lives. New York Times. ‘Many teenagers will find the story too slow to get going… But it’s the kind of book that can be life-changing, because without ever denying the essential amorality and randomness of the natural order, “The Book Thief” offers us a believable, hard-won hope.’
Pierce, Peter. September 10, 2005. The Book Thief. The Age. ‘A prize-winning children’s author, Zusak has made a daring debut as an author of adult fiction.’
N.B. We are eagerly await Markus’ next book, ‘Bridge of Clay’ (due for release in November 2009)… We’ll keep you posted.