The awesomeness and awfulness of human beings

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Liesel is a young German girl in the early 1940s, and her story is so interesting that it attracts the attention of Death himself. And Death narrators her story to us.

And it’s amazing.

Hopefully everyone’s going to go read it before they see the movie, and with this optimism I will try not to include any major spoilers in this book.

On the way to her foster home, Liesel finds her young brother dead on the train. As she goes forth into her new life, she carries that trauma forward, into one of the most traumatic and terrifying historical events.

This book is amazing, it’s beautifully written and Death, as a character is incredible, so removed and moved by the incredible kindness and cruelty of us. And it did a really beautiful job of the war. Of the beauty of the world and humanity in the midst of crippling, merciless criticism of our own nature.

When we tell World War stories, they are often very much good guy versus bad  guy, them versus us, victim versus villain versus hero and The Book Thief doesn’t do that. It’s told from the point of view of innocent Germans, because those people lived and suffered and died. Some of them supported Hitler. Some of them didn’t. Some of them were afraid to resist because when you have to choose between trying to help someone knowing that it could lead to the imprisonment, torture and death of your family its not evil or even selfish to choose not to try. Some who resisted as best as as they could. This isn’t the story of a Schindler, who saved thousands of lives. It’s the story of a family who tried to save one, and each other. It’s a story of fathers making choices to save their family, choices that kill them. It’s the story of people who cannot recover from what they have witnessed and participated in. The Allies are our good guys, but they are responsible for the deaths of characters we love. The Jews are the victims, barely more than animals, but one of the worst dehumanizing scenes in the book is when the starving Jews fight each other over dried bread. Humanity isn’t one or the other.

The idea that there are innocents anywhere, even among the children who watch their loved ones die, just seems so laughable at the end of the story.

I’m not sure which shelf this book belongs on. It’s not a kids book. It might be a young adult book. I think it’s an important story for people to read. Because the way we talk about war, the way we have always talked about war doesn’t reflect the realities of it.

Death has a theory that words matter, a theme that runs through the book. So maybe, if we change our words and our stories we can change everything.

p.s. That’s an amazingly obnoxiously deep ending. I apologize.

Last movie I watched:

I have absolutely no idea.

Last TV show I watched:

Charmed! With a baby!

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