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Death narrates Book Thief

?HERE IS A SMALL FACT: You are going to die.? With that starkly realistic statement on the first page, The Book Thief grabs the reader?s attention and refuses to let it go until the novel ends over 500 pages later.

Markus Zusak?s 2005 novel tells its story through a unique narrator, Death. The narrator is not as horrible as one may think, however, he tells the story because it haunts and touches even his heart.

In the prologue, he introduces the story with: ?It?s just a small story really, about among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.? The manner in which these elements of the novel react drives the story.

Liesel Meminger is a young girl whose family situations lead her into a foster home, a difficult place to be in an already difficult time, WWII Germany. Despite a rocky start, she comes to love her new parents, Hans and Rosa Hubberman, especially Hans, who soothes her during her nightmares and brings joy to her life through an accordion.

As the book traces Liesel?s experiences, she meets Rudy Stiener who quickly becomes her best friend. Together they face injustice and cruelty while at the same time trying to enjoy their childhood by playing soccer in the streets and stealing apples to make up for the lack of food at home.

It is not until Hans teaches Liesel how to read that she discovers the power of words and the lure of books, a lure so strong she resorts to stealing them from various locations: from the pile of a book bonfire to the opulent library of the mayor?s house. The books become an inspiration for Liesel to write her own story, called The Book Thief in a little black book that Death eventually comes by to learn of her story.

In the midst of things, a Jew named Max Vandenberg arrives at the Hubberman house, seeking the fulfillment to a promise that Hans had made to his father and a safe place to hide. There he lives in the basement and develops a friendship with Leisel based on empathy and understanding.

The combination of plot features play a part in the novel, but what truly drives the book is the investigation of the characters, their feelings, motives and thoughts. As a result of Death?s narration style, the reader knows how the book will end, but will continue reading in an attempt to understand the characters.

Death himself sums this up in the middle of the novel, after revealing in part the ending of the book: ?I don?t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It?s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.?

Through the story of Liesel and those she comes in contact with, Zusak explores the dual nature of humanity: its best and worst, its beauty and brutality. It is primarily for this reason that the book is so compelling-it speaks to the humanity of the reader with a challenge to represent the best while questioning the purpose of the worst.

The author emphasizes the importance of words throughout the novel, both written and spoken; a topic quite relevant to today. He comments on how words can bring life, as they do to Liesel, or destroy, as they do through Hitler?s speeches.

Overall, Zusak paints a tender, yet realistic portrait of the world with all its vitality and horrors. His unique writing style keeps the reader?s attention with a narrative peppered with moments of tragedy and humor, all of which provoke further thought. The Book Thief both touches and haunts the reader; it provides a well-written and insightful story that will dwell in the reader?s thoughts long after the novel ends.

I highly recommend The Book Thief to anyone interested in people?s lives during WWII, the power of words, or simply a thoughtful perspective on life. However, as the story includes some language, descriptions of violence, and difficult concepts for younger readers, parents should use caution; if the book were a movie it would be rated PG-13.

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