The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is engaging and authentic to the reader as it shows how Liesel was able to escape from her awful reality after she began to steal books and learn to read for herself. Reading books allowed her to retreat away from all the horrible things happening in her life. Leisel learns how words can bring death, despair, love, humour and peace. Zusak cleverly has Death narrating the story to give us a glimpse of life and death, particularly Liesel’s life, during the holocaust. This unique use of foreshadowing by Zusak tells the reader that there will be plenty of death to come.
Zusak introduces “The Book Thief” as a character and only introduces her as Liesel after her younger brother passes away. By foreshadowing Liesel as a thief, this engages the reader to want to learn more about her character and what happened to her brother. However, as you read on you realise how his death wasn’t seen as a tragic event, which seems authentic to how times were during the Holocaust. Death was a normal occurrence in people’s everyday lives. The truly, engaging and authentic chapter ‘The Flag’ (page 13), describes the book thief as the colour red. “Earlier, kids had been playing hopscotch there, on the street that looked like oil-stained pages. When I arrived I could still hear the echoes. The feet tapping the road. The children-voices laughing, and the smiles like salt, but decaying fast. Then, bombs.” Zusak’s use of imagery makes the reader feel so unsettled as Death described Liesel as red, meaning the blood covering Liesel was the children all around her. This imagery helps the reader gain an understanding of how the holocaust affected everyone in Germany regardless of their religion, making it a truly authentic representation of that time.
It is crucial to gain a better understanding of Leisel and to do this the reader needs to see where she is moving to and starting her life in a foster family, without her birth mother. “Himmel = Heaven” (page 26) this translation is ironic as on the next page Zusak writes, “The buildings to be glued together, mostly small houses and unit blocks that look nervous. There is murky snow spread out like carpet. There is concrete, empty hat stand trees and grey air.” This quote explains the setting of Himmel Street as Leisel arrives with her mother. The way Zusak has personified the buildings and saying that they “look nervous” makes you wonder how the people living there must feel. It certainly does not sound like “heaven”. At first Liesel was having nightmares sleeping next to what should’ve been her brother’s bed and she would scream herself awake. By doing this her bond with her foster father, Hans, was stronger as he kindly held her and told her “shh, I’m here, it’s alright”. Zusak engages the reader by hooking us into this father daughter relationship in the hope of Liesel attaining a better life after she’s experienced so much sadness. Zusak uses Death to comfort readers throughout the novel by changing the plot structure, which warns readers of the forthcoming bombing of Liesel’s home on Himmel Street. This forewarning of immediate devastation to her home attempts to protect the reader by revealing characters’ deaths. However, the emotional weight of these warnings is not felt until the bombing of Himmel Street occurs within the novel and readers experience it with Liesel.
Interestingly, Zusak chose to write from the perspective of a young Christian girl living in Germany during the holocaust period and how she suffered during this awful time. Usually books written about the holocaust are from a Jew’s perspective and their experiences. Zusak chose this method of storytelling to show that non-Jewish people living in Germany also suffered immensely from Hitler’s reign. This engages the reader as it shows how controlling the Nazis were to all the people in Germany. Every person is expected to love and worship Hitler and his ideology without question, otherwise they would have been killed. Zusak’s unique point of view is very authentic to the holocaust time.
Shockingly, Liesel has become to understand death more so throughout the novel. Sadly ‘Death’ is becoming consistently more common in her life. Liesel is able to remove herself from death and this is shown in the quote on (page 570) “She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Leisel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers…She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on…” This quote is engaging because it’s quite unbelievable a 10-year-old girl would have to live through this and understand what has happened. As this is Death’s quote it is proving, even he is amazed of how a young girl can be so resilient during the most horrific event. Liesel was a young, innocent girl and Zusak transformed her throughout the book into a powerful, resilient teenager.
“Usually we walk around constantly believing ourselves. ‘I’m okay’ we say. ‘I’m alright.’ But sometimes the truth arrives on you and you can’t get it off. That’s when you realise that sometimes it isn’t even an answer–it’s a question. Even now, I wonder how much of my life is convinced.” This quote is quite relatable as often people don’t give an honest response of how they are or even acknowledging to themselves that they are not okay. To give an honest response makes you vulnerable and is not as socially acceptable as believing and saying you are fine. Leisel is trying to tell herself she is okay, and everything is fine when deep down she knows that it just keeps coming back when she says, “sometimes the truth arrives on you and you can’t get it off.” Zusak uses inclusive language in the quote, ‘we’ would be referring to the whole population not just Liesel. By using this pronoun, it includes the reader in Liesel’s journey making the novel more engaging.
Overall Zusak encourages the reader to be empathic to Liesel throughout the novel by letting the reader experience her journey. Zusak does not give the reader a sense of closure at the end of the novel, rather the ending has been left open for the reader to decide. The reality of the horrifying events during the holocaust were not only felt during that time but for a lifetime after. Zusak was able to effectively engage the reader throughout the novel using many literary techniques, authentically describing the Holocaust period.