The Book Thief

“I have hated the words and I have loved them….”

But the words were made right.

I just finished reading The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. When you read it — and perhaps you already have — you’ll probably understand what my introductory words mean, and perhaps you’ll even feel the way I do, a mixture of anger and joy, sadness and hope.

Books like this are why for me reading is a cherished pastime, a form of enlightenment and entertainment that far excels the feeble, shallow attempts of most modern media.

Set in a small town in World War II Nazi Germany, The Book Thief is possibly the most unique book I have ever read. The story’s narrator is, to say the least, highly unusual — yet absolutely appropriate, and the narrator’s manner of speech is extraordinary.

“… like a slice of cold cement.”
“… the falling chunks of rain….”
“… the young man’s voice was scraped out and handed across the dark like it was all that remained of him.”
“Her words were quiet, close to motionless.”
“The rubble just climbed higher. Concrete hills with caps of red.”

But more moving than how the story was told, is the story that was told.

I absolutely and utterly detest, abhor and despise Nazism. I always have. I always will.

The Book Thief further cemented those feelings within me.

Yet at the same time it put a human face on the German people. It brought to the surface questions and thoughts that I’ve had before, but hadn’t pondered as deeply.

How could a people — so cultured and educated — permit themselves to be led and depraved by a devil and a doctrine as evil as Hitler and Nazism? How could they support the madman’s murderous conquest? Why would they allow themselves to venerate and heil a fellow human being, especially one as unworthy as Adolf Hitler? How could they stand by, or worse, actively participate in barbaric brutality against innocent human beings, their own neighbors and associates?

The Book Thief didn’t fully answer those questions for me. The answers are much too deep and complex for even a thousand lifetimes of books to give completely. But it did open a little window into the lives of a people that suffered greatly in the midst of great suffering their nation inflicted upon others.

How difficult it always is to resist the push of political correctness, and to stand strong against the punishing persuasion of political power.

How difficult it would have been to stand in open opposition to the oppressive machine that was Hitler’s regime.

I wonder if I was a resident of the town of Molching, what would I have done? I like to think that if I was an adult I would have at least had the courage and humanity of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, or that if I was a youth that I would have managed to achieve the optimism and sensitivity of Liesel and Rudy.

I hope that I never have to be tested to the degree that they were.

Even today there are people in the world facing similar trials. I am reassured of man’s divinity and God’s influence by those among us who choose truth over cowardice, humanity over brutality, compassion over viciousness, glory and goodness over darkness and hatred.

As the narrator concludes his account of the book thief, he summarizes nicely what the story conveys about the human condition:

I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race…. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.

Yes, the words were made right.

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