“It’s the left over humans. It’s the survivors. They’re the ones I can’t stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail…I am haunted by humans,” (Zusak, 5-550). Markus Zusak, filled with inspiration and education, created a thrilling historical fiction novel. Because of these principles, it has become highly successful and is a popular book among, not only the public, but other authors as well. Zusak, influenced by the events of World War II and his own life, masterfully constructed The Book Thief by perfectly intertwining fictional and factional elements.
Born in 1975 in Sydney, Australia, Zusak was the youngest of four children. His parents were German and Austrian immigrants who could not speak or write in English. Nevertheless, Markus mastered the language through communication and reading. Zusak got a degree in teaching at the University of Sydney. However, he worked as a high school English teacher, a janitor and a house painter, before becoming a successful author. (Chicago). His successful pieces of work include The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, When Dogs Cry, I am the Messenger and The Book Thief. “My mom is German my father is Austrian. I grew up hearing those stories.
One of my mum’s stories was about something that happened when she was six. She heard a noise that sounded like cattle being herded down the street. It was people being herded to a concentration camp. There was an old man who couldn’t keep up, and a boy gave him a piece of bread. They were both whipped, one for giving the bread, one for taking it… You don’t really think of humor when you think of that time, but there were a lot of funny stories as well. I knew about my dad “jigging” as we say in Australia the Hitler Youth meetings, because he had a friend who suffered at the hands of the leaders.
So they just said, “We’re not going. We’re going to go to the river instead and get dirty enough to fool our parents. ” Another story I knew was about Hitler’s birthday, and my mother’s foster father refused to fly the Nazi flag. His wife said to him, “You’re going to fly the flag or else they’re going to come for us,” (Hudson). Zusak wrote The Book Thief in 2006 and which has held the number one position at Amazon. com, Amazon. co. uk, the New York Times bestseller list, as well as in countries across South America, Europe and Asia.
It has also been in the top five bestsellers in the UK and several other territories. It has amassed many and varied awards, ranging from literary prizes to readers choice awards to prizes voted on by booksellers. It was the only book to feature on both the USA and UK World Book Night Lists in 2012, and has now been adapted into a major motion picture,” (About). Not only has this book been successful among the public many credible authors have also written good reviews, including John Green, author of the award winning books Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns and Finding Alaska.
The Australian writer Markus Zusak’s brilliant and hugely ambitious new young-adult novel is startling in many ways, but the first thing many teenagers will notice is its length: 552 pages! It’s one thing to write a long book about, say, a boy who happens across a dragon’s egg; it’s quite another to write a long, achingly sad, intricately structured book about Nazi Germany narrated by Death itself…Some will argue that a book so difficult and sad may not be appropriate for teenage readers. The Book Thief was published for adults in Zusak’s native Australia, and I strongly suspect it was written for adults.
Adults will probably like it (this one did), but it’s a great young-adult novel… it’s the kind of book that can be life-changing, because without ever denying the essential amorality and randomness of the natural order, The Book Thief offers us a believable, hard-won hope. ”(Green). Narrated by a personified Death, he tells the story of Leisel Memminger who lived with her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Huberman, in 1931 Molching, Nazi Gemany. He tells of her daily life, love of books, friends and family and the struggle of living during the time of Hitler’s rule.
One of these complications is that her foster family is illegally hiding a Jewish man named Max in their basement. The choice of using Death as narrator didn’t come instantly. The decision to use Death as a narrator only came off the second time around; if I had stuck to publishing deadlines Liesel would probably be the narrator… The real breakthrough was when I thought of the last line of the book. I was in down in Tasmania and there was water everywhere around me.
I was reminded of the last line of a book called ‘A River Runs Through It,’ which is, ‘I am haunted by waters. I thought, ‘Aaaahhh, Death is afraid of us and haunted by us, because he is on hand to see all the terrible things we do to each other. It makes sense that he is telling the story to prove to himself that humans can be beautiful and selfless as well. ’(Hudson). The events of World War II are crucial to the telling of the novel. On July 29, 1921, Adolf Hitler became the Nazi party leader. During this time, German population was unhappy about military, economic and territorial instability.
To gain support, “Hitler pledged civil peace, radical economic policies, and the restoration of national pride and unity… Jews were portrayed as responsible for all of Germany’s ills,” (Nazi). In March 1933, the first concentration camp opened at Dachau. In the twelve years of its existence over 200. 000 persons from all over Europe,( including Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and Jews) were imprisoned here and in the numerous subsidiary camps 41,500 were murdered,” (Visitor).
The first prisoners to be held there were communists, who held a severe threat to the Nazi Party. The German Communist Party or the KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands) appealed to the working class and hoped that the unemployed working class would blame business leaders and those who supported a capitalist society. “More people were categorized as working class as opposed to middle/upper class. Therefore a political party that had won over the working class would find itself in a very healthy position when compared to other parties that had not done so,” (The Communist).
In The Book Thief, Zusak created a setting packed full of fact and fiction. The characters, Liesel Memiger, Max Vanderburg, Hans and Rosa Huberman, Rudy Steiner, Ilisa Herman and Frau and Michael Holtzaphel are all fictional. However some characters are based off of real life people that have affected his life with their stories. “The Book Thief has the stories of my parents as a jumping-off point, and overall, maybe ten to fifteen per cent of the novel is true. At some point the novel becomes itself, though. The moment you fictionalize something about a character, they are no longer the real person.
In that regard, Liesel is Liesel. She isn’t my mother anymore,” (Wondrous). Many historical people and organizations are also mentioned in this novel. Hitler, the Nazi Party, Hitler’s Youth and Jesse Owens, all play a significant role in this book. Hitler and the Nazi Party are persecuting Jews which causes Max, the son of Hans’ friend, to seek the help of Liesel’s family. Rudy, Liesel’s best friend, is a part of Hitler’s Youth. At times, like Zusak’s father, he skips the meetings and goes down to the river instead, getting dirty enough to fool his mother.
Rudy’s idol, 1936 Berlin Olympics runner Jesse Owens, is also mentioned when Rudy covers himself in black charcoal and strives to become a star runner. “In the middle of August, a Hitler Youth carnival was being held, and Rudy was intent on winning four events…‘Four Gold Medals,’ he said to Liesel one afternoon when she did laps with him at Hubert Oval. ‘Like Jesse Owens back in ’36,’”(Zusak, 359-360) The ARP or Air Raid Precautions is also recognized under the name of LSE or Luftwaffe Sondereinheit (Air Raid Special Unit) when Hans goes to work for them in Stuttgart and Essen.
Actions of Nazi Germany and WWII were also prevalent in The Book Thief, such as the invasion of Poland, air raids, book burnings and the Holocaust. The invasion of Poland starts the events of WWII and is indirectly mentioned when Liesel had a bad day at school when she is punished by her teacher and beats up two kids. “That was one war started. Liesel would soon be in another,” (Zusak, 74). The bombings of towns and cities both in the book and historically were devastating to the populations of people living there.
5,000-40,000 people were killed instantly during the plane attacks and everyone that Liesel knew in Molching were killed. Book Burnings are also demonstrated throughout Germany. Nazis and “German students from universities formerly regarded as among the finest in the world, gather in Berlin and other German cities to burn books with ‘unGerman’ ideas. Books by Freud, Einstein, Thomas Mann, Jack London, H. G. Wells and many others go up in flames as they give the Nazi salute… accompanied by the singing of Nazi songs and anthems,”(Nazis).
Liesel attended a book burning held in her town. There, she stole books from the ashes and read them in secret with Hans. Out of all of the events of WWII, the Holocaust had the largest impact to the lives of both fictional characters and real people. At first, the Holocaust started out as simple discrimination. This led to boycotting of Jewish businesses and the labeling of Jews with spray painted doors and arm bands or pins with the Star of Davis on them. Eventually, Jewish people and several other diversities were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
There, the prisoners faced inhuman and harsh treatment, limited food rations, over populated areas and death. At the end of the war, five and six million Jews died in concentration camps or were killed by Nazi Soldiers. Death marches or “Jew Parades” were also common during this time. Jews often were transferred to and from work sites and camps. Many times the ones lagging behind were beaten or killed; those who tried to help the Jews were also punished. This is similar to the Jewish marches in The Book Thief where both Hans and Liesel were both whipped for giving bread to fallen Jews.
Some of the locations, like with the characters, are based on factual elements. 33 Himmel Street and Molching, Germany are the fictitious home address and town of Liesel. But, it is located in Munich, a real city in Germany close to the town of Dachau where the first concentration camp was opened. Sydney, Australia, in contrast, is a real city where Leisel spent the rest of her life with her husband and kids until Death comes to collect her. It is also the current home of Markus Zusak and his family. Through inspiration and education, Markus has created a beautiful piece of literature favored by hundreds of people.
For many, something Markus said resonates deeply with them, not only this book but many others as well. “Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it. ” (A Quote). The Book Thief has well-rounded characters and a creative setting and narrator, in result of the intertwinement of factual and fictional elements. By finding stimulation from his life and researching the events of WWII, he masterfully mixes fact and fiction to create this brilliant historical fiction novel.