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The Book Thief

This is my attempt at the contextual assessment of Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.
by

Josh Clements

on 24 May 2010

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Transcript of The Book Thief

NAZI GERMANY MARKUS ZUSAK THE CHARACTERS 21ST CENTURY CONTEXT From 1934-1945, Germany was run by a man named Adolf Hitler. He promised to rise Germany from the economic turmoil and the humilation of WWI and create a German empire, with him as the Fuhrer (leader).

Hitler belonged to the Nazi Party (National Socialist German Worker's Party) who were an extremely radical political party, who believed in creating an aryan race of Germans who would essentially rule the world. Many voters, who were scared by the losses of their country, stopped supporting the types of governments that brought Germany down and began supporting far right-wing and far left-wing political parties, opting for political extremists such as the Nazi Party. Although, not every German was a fan of Hitlers ideals. In fact there quite a number of people throughout Germany who wished to rebel from the Reich (Empire) and not participate in the society of Nazism. But rebelling was essentially impossible without being killed. Many people had to go along with the act just to stay alive, this is shown in Markus Zusak's "The Book Thief" with the character of Hans Hubermann, who decides not to apply for the Nazi Party but still tries to abide by the obligitory rules, to keep his family safe.

The horrors of Nazi Germany, in particular, The Holocaust, are referred to somewhat throughout this novel. It was such a significant piece of our history as human beings and it highlights the cruelty of some in this world. Max, the sovereign Jew in this story, manages to escape this cruelty. But the intent gets displayed towards the end of the novel when all of the Jews are forced to walk down the main street of Molching. Markus Zusak is an Australian author born on the 23rd June 1975.
He is the son of Lisa and Helmet Zusak who were born in Germany and Austria respectively. They lived in Europe during the time of the breakout of WWII.
Zusak's novel “The Book Thief” has been partially based upon the ordeals of his parents during their time in Europe. His parents have included stories that have impacted on the novels storyline and concepts. One of these stories is the one of a young German boy who sees a starving Jew and offers the man a piece of bread. Once the Jew has gracefully accepted the bread, Nazi officers beat up both the Jew and the boy for offering the bread. This shows the good and bad of humanity, one of the main themes that Zusak portrays in his novel.
Another story is of the "burning skies" of Germany during the bombings. This concept of a burning sky, influences Zusak by giving the idea that Death sees colours in the sky when he collects a soul to take into the afterlife. Being a creative writer has given Zusak an advantage to create an individual story of Nazi Germany which has been told by many times by multiple authors. Zusak's originality is shown at the very start of his novel. He portrays the narration under the first person view of "Death". In the stereotypical cliché of the character "Death", he is seen as the one who is in control of the death of humans and works hand in hand with the wars. In Zusak's interpretation, this is far from the truth. He gives the idea that "Death" is scared of humans and does his job out of obligation. Throughout the story, "Death" narrates the story of Liesel Memminger and shows the dark and the light of human culture, giving a whole new spin on the genre of Nazi Germany and of the character "Death". As I've been alluding to, my one saving grace is distraction. It keeps me sane. It helps me cope, considering the length of time I've been performing this job. The trouble is, who could ever replace me? The answer of course is nobody, which has prompted me to make a conscious decision - to make distraction my holiday. Needless to say, I holiday in increments. In colours. The Book Thief- Page 5 As readers of The Book Thief, the audience all belong to the 21st Century. With that comes many different social aspects to those upheld within the novel. For example, being set in Nazi Germany, there will be war. Whereas in our lives, war is somewhat of an unknown. Only what we have heard on the news or in books.

The audience lives in a world where peace is the general convention around the world. Reading a novel set in war times, is often like reading a fantasy, as that world seems so unbelievable. This is a bold move by Zusak, by using historical events in a fictional narrative, it creates the effect of realism to his story.

Also from being in the 21st Century, we know the events that unfold within that time. The German Empire falls, with its country destroyed and humiliated yet again. We know that the towns get obliterated by explosives and we also know what happens to the Jewish population of Germany.

Zusak chose Nazi Germany as his setting not only because of the versitility of the topic but also of the importance of his parents upbringing. Another problem was that Nazi Germany, Hitler and all associated topics had been written about before, so how could I make my own story original?
Markus Zusak Zusak encorporates all of these factors intentionally when writing this novel. In the 21st Century, many people live in a commercialised, throw away society. These values and attitudes are very different to those in "The Book Thief". For example, the central character Liesel, who comes from a disadvantaged family, takes what she can get and treasures it forever. The books that she steals are in small quantity but the amount they mean to her is tremendous. In today's society, this is rarely seen and many people don't treasure what they have around them. Liesel Meminger Liesel Meminger is the central character in "The Book Thief". She is an adolescent aged girl living in Germany. Liesel's mother was forced to give her up for adoption due to the accusations of Communism. Liesel gets adopted the Hubermann family in Molching, Germany. Liesel has a yearning for learning to read and her foster father Hans, is the one who teaches her. Her obsession with books becomes so intense that she steals them. Zusak wished to portray a metaphor with this within his book. My first thought was to make it a personal story, about a girl. Then came an idea that I’d had floating in my head for a couple of years about a stealer of books. Soon I realised that words were a good metaphor for Nazi Germany. It was words (and Hitler’s ability to use them) that contained the power to murder and ostracise. Markus Zusak Hans Hubermann Hans Hubermann is Liesel Meminger's foster father in the novel. Hans is a house painter/accordianist who is one of the few German's who is against the Nazi regime. Hans Hubermann is one of the people who just "blend" into the background, who doesn't get noticed even if he was in the front of a line.
When fighting in the first world war, Hans is befriended by a Jewish man who in turn, saves his life. When Hans consults the man's wife, he offers her anything she wants. Later on in the story, the son of the Jewish family approaches Hans to keep him safe from the Nazi's. Hans' kind nature allows the Jew to hide in his basement.
Zusak's father was also a house painter and Markus had an ambition to follow suit, so the career of the father figure is a representation of his own father. Rudy Steiner Rudy Steiner is Liesel's best friend. He is one of six children in the Steiner household. Rudy is a strong character who is very opinionated and believes in what he says. Rudy attends the Hitler Youth, in which he suffers and is forced to push himself both mentally and physically. He hates attending these sessions and resists with all his might, which ends up getting him in some trouble with one of the leaders of the Hitler Youth, Deustcher.
Rudy's ordeals are similar to those told by Zusak's father Helmet.
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