It’s a beautiful, albeit a heart wrenching story told in the perspective of Death.
Yes, the narrator is Death. It sounds ominous but his introduction will make readers curious. And I was.
He tells the story of a girl that made him curious about human resilience. He saw her three times. The first was on the day that her brother passed away while on the train going to Munich to be sent to a foster home. That was also the time she stole her first book. The second was time was when a plane crash landed and she was present on the crash site. Last he saw her was when the German town she lived was bombed and she was standing on a pile of rubble, clutching on a book.
The story was set in Nazi Germany during the reign of Adolf Hitler. The story began while Liesel Merminger was on a train dreaming about him and waking up to her dying younger brother. After the burial, she and her mother proceeded to Munich where she was transferred to a foster home. Her foster father was a house painter and plays the accordion. Her foster mother works by laundering and ironing clothes for other people.
Liesel was plagued by nightmares due to her brother’s death. Her salvation came through her father and through the written word. On her brother’s burial, she had stolen her first book. Since she didn’t know how to read and write, she kept the book hidden under her pillow. However, during one of her nightmares, she wet the bed. Her father, Hans Haubermann, in the attempt to help her and comfort her, found the book as they stow away the evidence from her mother. Since then, he helped her to learn to read.
The book then narrated her life with the Haubermann’s, how she met her best friend and their adventures of soccer and stealing. The book gave a different perspective on Nazi Germany. We usually see stories told in the Jews’ perspective and this time, we also see the different perspectives of the Germans.
The theme was dark but this was balanced out by the tone of the narrator. Death has a sense of humor and I find myself smiling, and sometimes, laughing, at his descriptions and observations. The author, Markus ZUsak, was able to build up the characters well. Rosa Haubermann, for example, was a woman who is loud and always calls Liesel a ‘pig girl’ and her husband an ‘ass’, but she has the biggest heart of them all which was exemplified when she fed soup to the Jew they hid in their basement and went to see Liesel in her school just to let her know that Max was alive and well after he had been sick and on the brink of death. His storytelling brought out the paradox of human nature in such a fluid manner.
Do not, however, expect a happy ending. I would not say the story ended in tragedy because it didn’t. I would say it was apt and realistic. The book was a fusion of fantasy and reality. Though the narration was a bit fantastical as it is being told in Death’s perspective, the emotions, sufferings and tribulations that the characters went through, was reflective of the times during Nazi Germany.
Some would hate the ending. Maybe in the deepest recesses of my heart, I would also wish some things could have been avoided. I do love happy endings, after all. However, changing it would be an idealistic whim and would probably lose the emotional pull that those events brought about.