Review Blog

Mar 14 2012

The book thief by Markus Zusak (audio book)

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Vision Australia, Melbourne, 2010. ISBN 978 1 86482 596 1. 14 1/2 hours (11 Cd's). Read by Denis Olsen. PanMacmillan, Sydney, 2005.
(Ages: 14+) Highly recommended. As Death takes the boy's soul, he notices the dead child's sister, Liesel, the girl who later becomes the book thief, and Death is destined to see her several more times before he comes for her years later. It is 1939 and his business is booming. Liesel is being taken to a foster home, one where she learns to read through the teaching of her beloved foster father, the accordion player, Hans Hubermann, and learns love from the next door neighbour Rudy Steiner and her taciturn foster mother, the wardrobe of a woman, Rosa Hubermann.
World War Two sees the best and the worst of deeds and people, as Death narrates his journey around Liesel Meminger during those frightful years.
Her first theft of a book occurs at her brother's funeral, when one of the gravediggers drops his handbook. She seizes it and teaches herself some words from it. She steals another from the Mayor's wife's library and saves one from a book burning, all the while learning to read at night with Papa and then reading aloud to those who huddle in the shelter during bombing raids. And Max, the Jew who the family hides in their cellar, writes stories for her to read.
This is a story sewn with many layers and complications as we hear stories behind stories, people's lives filled out with involvements and intricacies which tie them all together and keep them apart. The reality of living in Nazi Germany is brilliantly evoked. But the emphasis on books and the power of words is at its base, as Leisel collects her books and keeps safe those written by Max. When she writes her own story it is Death who finds the book in the street after their houses have been bombed and all but Leisel killed, and he takes it with him, reading it over the years until finally he comes for her.
It is a perfect story, symmetrical in its overall theme, that Death is haunted by humans, haunted by their power to be good and bad at the same time, to wreak the worst and best deeds upon each other, to survive all the horrors known to mankind.
And all the while Denis Olsen's beautiful voice carries the story further. His modulation is perfect, his pitch exquisite, his rendering of the different voices, a joy to hear, particularly that reflecting the sardonic wit of the character of Death.
Fran Knight

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