Suey over at All About Books for hosting our first discussion on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak! She kindly left us a set of questions to get us going and I'll be linking this post up with hers. So, let's get this party started!
1. What's your first impression of Death as a character/narrator?
Well, it is certainly unique! I like that he puts the idea of the Grim Reaper out the back door--in fact, in one part, Death comments about how quaint (I think that is the word he used, I don't have my book handy to check) that image is.
But it also shows that Death is not frightening. Whenever the narrator talks about someone dying he uses language such as he "gathers them up" or "takes them in his arms"--very comforting language.
2. What's your first impression of the unique writing style?
I like it! I read a lot of sort of "straight forward" books, so it is nice to come across something that is a little bit out of the box. Of course, out of the box can be hard and a number of authors fall flat when they attempt it, but Zusak succeeds.
3. Which character stands out to you the most so far and why?
Well, the easy answers to this question would be Liesel and Hans--and I'm not saying they don't stand out for me, but I'm going to go a slightly different direction here... I am intrigued by Rosa. At first, she seems like the cliched evil stepmother (although she's a foster mother, not a step-mother), but if you look deeper you see that she is a woman who is under a great deal of stress--financial, familial, and political--and has to put on a tough veneer to survive. Yet, under it all, I see great humanity in her.
4. What do you think the author is trying to say about the power of words?
I believe Zusak is showing how threatening words can be. Liesel is a victim until she learns to read. The Nazis burn books that they find subversive. Liesel and Hans read in the basement and during the night. Such an ordinary thing--reading--is truly and extraordinary act.
5. How do you feel about all the foreshadowing that's going on?
Personally, I'm a fan of well-done foreshadowing. When it is done badly, it is enough for me to give up a book. If it is absent, I spend my time wondering why I should be reading this book.
And I like the way Zusak has handled it--it is as if the Narrator (you know, Death!) is teasing us....
6. Also, how do you feel about all that German swearing?!?
It doesn't bother me--my tolerance for profanity has lessened since having kids, but in The Book Thief it is appropriate. For one thing it is in German--heck, if I can't pronounce it, how can I find it offensive? Also, I think it says something about the characters. Rosa swears like a German sailor and it is characteristic of her having to be a tough, tough woman. As Liesel becomes tougher, so does her language.
7. What do you think about the relationship between Hans and Rosa?
In some ways, I find it very typical--two people who have been married for ages and bicker all the time. On the other hand, it seems like there is a history there that we don't know. Whether or not we will find out remains to be seen.
8. What do you think about the relationship between Rudy and Liesel?
I find this particular relationship to be entertaining, at least at the moment. I'll be interested to see how it develops between the two of them.
9. What are your feelings on the politics of the time that we've seen so far?
The incorrect idea that many hold is that if you lived in Germany during the Hitler era, you were a Nazi. Zusak does a good job of debunking that. You have every flavor of Nazi--those who are zealous about the party and those who are in the party because they feel they have to be--and you have people, like Hans, who are not in the party and who don't want to be (although something has happened to make the Nazis not want him).
10. What images and/or symbols stand out for you in this story so far?
If I had to pick just one image, it would be that of the burning book against Liesel's skin under her coat. I love how the power of something so ordinary and something so damaged is illustrated. I find this scene to be one of the major turning points of the story.
And that's it for this section! My discussion post for the next session will show up at some point during the day on September 20th, so stay tuned!