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Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief

According to the introduction presented by the narrator of the book, the entire story basically revolves around a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter and quite a lot of thievery.

Reading The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak was a pleasant surprise. I don’t remember how I came across the title of this book and how I ended up purchasing it. It even seemed a bit “off” in the beginning and I almost abandoned reading it. I was looking for something cheerful to read . Something humorous, something light. The Book Thief is an account of an orphaned girl (nine years old when the story begins) in Nazi Germany, told by Death. Her six-year-old brother dies while her mother is taking her and her brother to be given to foster parents in Munich, the guards of the train almost abandon them on a snowy terrain and the first book that she steals while her brother is being buried is “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”. How much more dismal can it get? But something nudged me on and by the time I was half through, I was practically in love with all the major characters of the book, especially Liesal, the book thief.

The story is about a little girl named Liesal told by Death. She is practically orphaned. Unable to take care of her kids, the mother decides to put her two kids in foster care, but one kid dies on their way to Munich and ultimately it’s only the daughter who reaches her foster parents, the Hubermanns. Almost the entire story takes place in the Himmel Street, a very poor place in a town called Molching that is at the outskirts of Munich. The foster parents get an allowance for keeping such kids so they are understandably upset that they were only getting the girl and not both the siblings.

This is the place where Liesal, amidst regular nightmares of her brother dying in her arms, begins to grow. She arrives at the place with nothing but the book she had stolen while her brother was being buried. The new mother and father are poles apart. The mother, Rosa Hubermann, cannot utter a sentence without appending an abuse — Saumensch or Saukerl or Arschloch were the hard-core German abuses she cannot live without. The father, Hans Hubermann, prefers to remain to himself, play his accordion, and smoke cigarettes he rolls himself. As soon as the child arrives, he takes her under his protection and shields her from Rosa’s verbal and physical onslaughts, whenever he can. He is a painter by profession but since most of his jobs came from the Jews and since most of the Jews have been killed, chased away or sent to the concentration camps, they have been reduced to having pea soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Liesal screams and cries almost every night in her nightmares and it’s Hans who wakes her up, comforts her and tells her stories, and they develop an unbreakable bonding. One of such nights she shows him the book that she had stolen once and asks him to read it to her. Hans cannot read much but their nightly reading journeys begin like this and they continue for many years as she is able to steal more and more books.

As she grows into her teens, it’s the boys she is more comfortable with rather than girls and this is how her friendship with Rudy Steiner begins, whom people consider slightly mad after he painted himself black and pretended to be Jesse Owens. Together they face many adventures, including stealing of books, and beating up of other boys.

Amidst all the adult and early teenage tumults, arrives a person one day, who looks less like a human and more like a corpse. In a town where most of the remaining adults think that Jews deserve what they have got and as soon as a Jew is sighted he should be either immediately reported or killed, the Hubermanns decide to hide a fugitive Jew in their basement.

There was a time when Jews and Germans were friends and there was a Jew who was also Hans Hubermann’s friend. This was the friend who taught him how to play the accordion. This was the friend to whom he had promised that one day he would return the favour. The friend had died long ago, leaving behind his son and wife, and it was this son the Hubermanns decide to provide shelter to when they are asked to help. Having a boisterous 12-year-old girl around who cannot normally hold her tongue doesn’t make the job easier.

Do they succeed in saving the fugitive in a place where even your neighbours are on the lookout for such fugitives, or do they get caught and meet a harsh punishment?

If you want to experience an emotional rollercoaster with exceptional writing, then do read The Book Thief.

My new Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle Paperwhite

I was writing the review of “The Remains of the Day” when I realized that if I really wanted to write a good review, I should have taken down some notes. Up till now I had been using the Android Kindle app on my tablet as well as on my computer to not just read the books, but also search through various texts while writing the occasional reviews that I publish on this blog. But recently I purchased Kindle Paperwhite – the actual digital book reading device that I had been planning to purchase for the past two years but always managed to come up with excuses for not buying it. Well, now I have bought it.

I must’ve already mentioned that ever since I started reading digital books, the number of books I read every six months must’ve increased by 10 times if I’m not exaggerating. There used to be years before I would actually pick up a book and read it completely. That was before I started reading digital books. For the past three years, I think on an average I read 10 full-fledged books every year. I know compared to many it may not be a good record, but personally, it is a great achievement considering for 2-3 years I wouldn’t even read a single literary book.

With the purchase of the new Kindle Paperwhite, I think my reading is going to increase significantly. Last weekend I finished reading “The Remains of the Day” and this weekend I’m pretty sure that I’m going to complete “The Book Thief”. Reading on my Android tablet was quite convenient, but it is easier on the Kindle reading device simply because it is much lighter and, well, you may already know this, the text appears just like normal paper.

The convenience of reading a particular book for me is not just a matter of luxury, but it can decide whether I can read a book or not at a particular place. For instance, due to my disability, with conventional books, I couldn’t read without a table, and whenever I read, I always needed to be in the sitting position. Using a device such as my Android tablet and now Kindle Paperwhite enables me to read while I’m lying on my bed. The benefit of using Kindle Paperwhite is that I can read my books under any sort of lighting condition. This was a problem with the tablet – one cannot read under the natural outdoors light. Even indoors, after a while, it begins to strain your eyes. This is not the case with the Kindle reader. You feel as if you are reading a paper book, just with the convenience of a digital device.

While reading books on your Kindle Paperwhite you can highlight particular portions and insert notes for later reference. Once you have created multiple notes, all you have to do is tap the top portion of screen and on the extreme right hand side there is a drop down menu and within that menu you can find a link to your existing notes. This is great when you need to retrieve text while writing reviews. This was a mistake I committed when reading “The Remains of the Day”. The same mistake I have committed while reading “The Book Thief” but I will certainly remember to insert some notes while reading my next book.

You may think why I have purchased a Kindle device when I was already conveniently reading books on my Android tablet. Frankly, I have been using a tablet to read books since December 2011 but then I was reading like, during weekends, not like now when I normally read everyday for 60-80 minutes. It not just causes strain to the eyes it also becomes cumbersome, and of course, full of distractions. I have a Samsung Galaxy tablet and it also acts as my phone and my means to checking my Twitter updates. In fact, from making and receiving calls to maintaining my schedule in Evernote to interacting on Twitter, I do basically everything on my Samsung Galaxy tab. Book reading is something I had always wanted to keep separate and incurring the cost just for that was worth it.

But that’s not the only thing. My space for reading has increased manifold. Now I can read everywhere, no matter where I am. The lighting around me is not going to restrict me. I’m always going to keep my Kindle Paperwhite in the bag that I have tied to my wheelchair. Whenever I get some time, I’m going to take out my Kindle and start reading. This is, for me, the greatest advantage – the ability to steal moments of reading whenever I can.

And of course, it is quite light. I can just hold it in my hand and read a book for hours without my wrist getting tired.

The things that I’m going to miss are the colors, and the ability to use the swipe keyboard. Pressing individual keys for typing seems so archaic now, and so is, using a black-and-white display. This was one of the reasons why I was still waiting – I was hoping that soon we would get a color display.

But anyway, the more important thing is the ability to read as and when I like. This is what I’m getting from my Kindle Paperwhite. Thank you technology, for making reading so much easier.