Tag Archives: WWII

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (Black Swan, 2008)

‘Thanks for the beautiful review […] all best and much respect.’
Markus Zusak, 2013 (via Twitter)

The Book Thief

Narrated by Death – not something that can be said about most novels; however, Zusak pulls it off wonderfully. A dry sense of humour, short and blunt sentences, as well an interaction with the reader are all characteristics which make Death the perfect narrator for The Book Thief.

The book thief is Liesel Meminger, a German girl, who is delivered to the house of Hans and Rosa Hubermann at the start of the novel. En route, she encounters Death for the first time, following the loss of her brother. We are told that they will meet each other on two further occasions.

The first book stolen by Liesel is a gravedigger’s manual which she gathers up from the snow after her brother’s burial. She goes on to steal several others, which she studies religiously; she later learns to read and write, with the aid of her Papa, Hans, with whom she shares a very close bond.

We get a better idea of the mysterious Hubermanns, when they selflessly take in and hide Max Vandenburg, a Jewish fist-fighter. Liesel develops a close friendship with Max, who is likewise a victim of Nazi persecution. The literature produced by Max for his friend Liesel truly enforces the novel’s emphasis on words, particularly in regards to their strength and importance at a time of great oppression and loneliness, where many people desperately desired to escape and rebel.

One of those who rebels is Rudy, a school-friend of Liesel, who, one day, dresses up like Jesse Owens and sprints through the streets of Molching. His affection shared with Liesel, and his constant pestering for just one kiss, makes for a beautiful, yet heart-breaking love story in The Book Thief.

Zusak places us in Himmel Road, at the centre of Nazi influence in Germany, allowing us to witness the suffering of innocent Germans, both at the hands of the British, who bombard the city in air raids, and of their fellow countrymen, who march shackled Jews through the streets to concentration camps.

My only real criticism would be the use of the German pejoratives saumensch and saukerl, which I felt lost their meaning through overuse. However, I feel that with this gem, Zusak has produced one of the most excellent novels of our century – sheer brilliance and originality – and one that I would steal, given the chance.

4.5 books

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Filed under Drama, History

The City of Shadows, Michael Russell (Avon, 2012)

City of Shadows_Medium

In The City of Shadows, we are given an insight into Ireland, specifically Dublin, in the build-up to WWII. I myself had very little prior knowledge of this period in Ireland, and was surprised to learn about the strong influence of Nazism, the strength of the Catholic Church and the hostility against homosexuals. More well-informed readers may be more familiar with this history, and would probably warn me not to take it as given, as this is nonetheless a fictional work.

Through Stefan Gillespie’s investigation, in which he discovers the bodies of Vincent Walsh and Susan Field, Hannah Rosen’s  friend,  we are taken to Danzig and back, delving into the darkest corners of life. These are not the only two deaths we encounter in The City of Shadows, as institutional corruption in the government, the police and the church uncovers bribery, blackmail and a lack of consideration for the value of human life.

The pastoral location of West Wicklow, Stefan’s childhood home, is also explored, where Tom, his son, now lives with his grandparents. Here lies the underlying subplot: a fight for justice. The local priest attempts to send Tom away, owed to the views of his Protestant father and his late Jewish mother. This battle illustrates the fragility of human nature, as Stefan becomes a product of the evil against which he is fighting.

Meanwhile, the love affair between Stefan and Hannah Rosen, a Jewish friend of the deceased Susan, is tested by the discriminatory society and by distance, as she travels to Danzig and later follows her Jewish roots to Palestine.

I felt somewhat disappointed with the conclusion of the novel, which was not as romantic or ideal as I had expected; nevertheless, it is a realistic ending to a gripping mystery novel, into which Michael Russell cleverly weaves the history of the era. An excellent debut by an author from whom I hope to hear more in the coming years.

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Filed under History, Mystery