The Book Thief by Markus Zusak ranks number two on a list of “Ten Aussie Books to Read Before You Die” voted for by viewers of the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club. Discuss the Significant Features of the novel that have contributed to its success, analysing and evaluating their contribution. The novel, “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak was first published in 2005. The story is set in Germany, 1939, the time of World War Two. Many significant characters are revealed though out the novel such as Death, Hans Hubermann, and Liesel Meminger.
These characters are memorable as well as lovable, but also bring out the idea’s and style of the Novel. Death is one of the major characters in The Book Thief as not only does he give the book a certain style but also the book is set from his perspective. “It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors.” (Markus 2005, p.6) Death is shown as impatient and spills in the beginning the main events in the book such as the bombing raid the takes place, the death of the American fighter pilot as well as the fate of important characters.
Death even notices it and apologises. By him being exposed as impatient, Zusak has been able to use the literary style of foreshadowing. Markus Zusak mentions in one of his interviews, “I deliberately made Death let the plot out of the bag. It lends to the idea of his knowingness, and that he is not human. He does not function exactly how a human would in his story-telling… There was also the idea that knowing what would happen in advance might soften the blow, and it’s also a challenge to myself.” (Little Willow 2006) Death uses colours to not only describe certain moments, but also the colour of the sky when people are dying.
There are three moments in the book where Death comes across Liesel and he uses three colours to describe these moments, when her brother died it was white, “It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow.” (Markus 2005, p.7) When the American fighter pilot died it was black, “It was the darkest moment before the dawn.”(Markus 2005, p.10) There was the last time when he encountered Liesel, when the sky was red, “The sky was like soup boiling and stirring. In some places it was burnt.”(Markus 2005, p.13) the use of colours creates a style which sets the mood. Whether the mood should be silent, soft and still, or it should make you angry. Death isn’t given a gender in the the novel and although he has feelings, it gives the idea as well as shows he is not human.
There are other ways that Death shows he is not human. He clearly states “I am haunted by humans” which separates him from humanity. “To prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.” (Markus 2005, p.16) Death acknowledges the idea of whether humans are worth it. Throughout the Book Thief it is noticed that there are many characters that truely are worthy such as Hans and clearly Liesel. Death illustrates that through all the ugliness that is happening at that time, even though the story is set at the time of the Holocaust as well as World War Two, that there is beauty that shines. It makes a difference. “… He had the ability to appear in the background… He was always just there. Not noticeable…
There was most definitely a value in him…” (Markus 2005, p.34) Hans wasn’t a main character within The Book Thief, but was an important character. He creates the love and joy within The Book Thief. “I nearly wrote you a reply and signed your mother’s name… I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself.” Hans is a caring, and gentle. This stands out as the book thief has many sad moments by him being caring and gentle it gives you another view of what life was like in World War two as Hans is an average German man, but he disagrees with what is currently happening in Germany.
“When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear notes.” Hans’s accordion was not only a symbol of his kindness, but also is a part of him. Markus Zusak has carefully placed this in the book by writing about Rosa clinging to it at night when Hans works for the military and Liesel mentioning that she sometimes imagines Hans as an accordion when he plays. Liesel is the main character who still finds happiness out of an awful situation.
“The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or worldly tricks to make us feel better.” (Markus 2005, p.521) Although at age 9 Liesel is illiterate she soon learns the power that words have to heal and save such as Liesel reading books to Frau Holtzapel to heal the pain she felt. “It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors- an expert at being left behind.”(Markus 2005, p.6) Liesel is seen as a “perpetual survivor” because despite many people dying and all the suffering she manages to still have pure happiness. The style and ideas are shown through the characters and the book is unusual in so many ways as it tackles ideas most don’t want to think about such as the ugliness and beauty of humans and whether some deserve to live.
It also shows the power humans have through words and what we believe in. It looks at a different perspective of death so instead of humans being afraid of death, Death is afraid of humans. It’s a sad, depressing story where many good characters die, but it shows lightness. Good people who stand out even if not important. The novel is beautifully written as it flows like a poem with such power. These are the significant features that have contributed to its success.
Zusak, M 2005, The Book Thief, PanMacillan, Sydney.
Little Willow 2006, ‘Interview: Markus Zusak’, Blog post, interview, 4 June, accessed 22 May 2013, .