books · Consume

What I’m Reading: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I started listening to the audio book of The Book Thief on my drive back from New York. To be honest, I’ve started this book a handful of times but for a multitude of reasons I would put it down, only to start over again a few weeks or months later. Now, I’m in it and I’m not stopping. It’s so good.

I’m about halfway through, but I wanted to touch on a couple of ideas from the book that I find fascinating. So there may be some spoilers here but not many. The first thing I wanted to applaud about the book is its use of narration. The book is narrated by Death. Can’t get better than that. I’m a big Terry Pratchett fan so I’m no stranger to Death as a person, but Zusak’s Death isn’t so funny. Personable like Pratchett’s but he pulls no punches. He talks about the world in colors, in beautiful prose that will leave you gasping for air. Things like, “the sky was like soup, boiling and stirring” and “the sky was murky and deep like quicksand.” Beautiful stuff.

The second idea I love about the book is related to one of the characters, Max Vandenburg. Max is a Jew in Nazi Germany and in trying to escape to find help, he is given a copy of Mein Kampf with an ID card, a map, and a key taped inside the front cover. “Of all the things to save him.” Once he has escaped he begins reading the book, and when asked if it’s a good book he replies, “It’s the best book ever. It saved my life.” But here’s the cool part. He begins to tear pages from Mein Kampf and painting over the words then making his own book. How awesome is that? To destroy the thing that ruined you by creating something that saves you. What an incredible metaphor for life and dealing with our problems.

Another part of the book that sticks with me is a story that Max writes for Liesel, the main character. Here is a part of it:

There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:

  1. He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else.
  2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache.
  3. He would one day rule the world.

The young man wandered around for quite some time, thinking, planning, and figuring out exactly how to make the world his. Then one day, out of nowhere, it struck him–the perfect plan. He’d seen a mother walking with her child. At one point, she admonished the small boy, until finally, he began to cry. Within a few minutes, she spoke very softly to him, after which he was soothed and even smiled.

The young man rushed to the woman and embraced her. “Words!” He grinned.

“What?”

But there was no reply. He was already gone.

Yes, the Führer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will never fire a gun,” he devised. “I will not have to.” Still, he was not rash. Let’s allow him at least that much. He was not a stupid man at all. His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.

He planted them day and night, and cultivated them.

He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany…. It was a nation of farmed thoughts.

Reading this, I can’t help but think about the current political climate in America. With an election coming up, it seems that every politician is planting their own forest of words and cultivating them. A great many of those words are full of hatred. But words can rule the world, even hateful ones. It makes me very sad, yet very hopeful for the not-so-hateful words. Those of revolution and freedom and liberty. My advice: don’t let politicians rule your words. You have your own voice.

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