The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is a story showing — not just telling about — the power of words. Through words, strong cords of love form in the midst of a war relying on the power of might and beatings and bombs. Do words triumph? Yes. Death may come, but not before words shape life and give it meaning and become a vessel to share what’s in a heart.
The book focuses on a young girl, Liesel, who lives in Munich with foster parents during WWII. She learns to read with the patient teaching of Hans, her new Papa. It turns out she not only loves books but writes beautifully, too. Her love for words literally saves her life when she escapes the devastation of a night raid because she can’t sleep and is up writing instead of lying in bed.
The beauty of The Book Thief lies in the many characters we get to know. We see them arguing, stealing, cursing, withdrawing. We also see them treating each other with grace, generosity, and goodness. They are people at their worst and best.
Here’s an example. Liesel’s family runs for the shelter when air raid sirens go off in the night. “Even from the cellar, they could vaguely hear the tune of bombs.” Adults shook with fear and children wailed and chaos reigned. “Liesel opened one of her books and began to read. She spoke it aloud to help her concentrate.” One by one, those around Liesel began listening to her read. “Soon, a quietness started bleeding through the crowded basement. By page three, everyone was silent but Liesel. For at least twenty minutes, she handed out the story. Only when the sirens leaked into the cellar again did someone interrupt her. ‘We’re safe,’ said Mr. Jenson. Liesel looked up. ‘There are only two paragraphs till the end of the chapter,’ she said, and she continued reading with no fanfare or added speed. Just the words.”
The Book Thief reminds us that not only can words calm but they are also seeds that grow. They can build up and encourage. They can build a bridge between any two people.
One of Liesel’s friends called her “The Word Shaker.” How about we adopt this title for ourselves today? How will you use your words? How can you speak or write encouragement to someone who is in a dark basement today? They may be distracted by sirens and dread. You may need to keep on speaking until quiet bleeds through. Maybe your words today can serve as a small block in building a bridge of friendship. This challenges me. How about you?
A few notes:
*This book is classified as a Young Adult novel. I don’t know why. Don’t let that discourage you from reading it. The subject matter and vocabulary are sophisticated.
*The book’s narrator is Death. You may like this literary twist. I found it mostly distracting, but the beauty of the story shines through.
*This novel is rich in layers of story and populated by many multifaceted characters. It will haunt you long after you read the last page . . . .