I've always been a book-lover. Before I knew how to read, I already held books and marvelled at the sight of words. So when I started reading, it's very difficult for me to put my books down. Especially when I started reading my first novel, Harry Potter. But that's not why I'm writing this. I'm writing this for the one book that made me put it down, stare into oblivion, and think. This book, by Markus Zusak, made me feel a plethora of emotions, from happiness to sadness to anger, then back to happiness. It broke my heart and mended it in so many times. I'm not from Germany nor ma I a Jew. I haven't been born yet when this story came to life. I'm a 90's kid and I thought I knew what happened at Germany in World War II, but I was thoroughly mistaken. This book revealed to me a whole lot of things with the story of a girl, the book thief.
"It's just a small story really, about, among other things:
So, first off, the girl or as Death calls her, the book thief. The book thief is Liesel. She lost her family, twice. First, she lost her brother to winter and her biological mother to abandonment. Second, she lost her papa and mama (adoptive parents) to a bomb. But, really, she also had good times. A lot, actually. As Markus Zusak narrated, in the voice of Death, "Like most misery, it started out with apparent happiness." Well, technically, it started when she lost her first family. But it was short. And she was happy long. I admire liesel, because even when they very poor and all the atrocities of the Fuhrer were happening around her, she still found joy in simple things. She played soccer with the kids in their neighborhood, she stole fruits and books with Rudy, and she helped without knowing she did. Liesel, above all, loved her papa so much. She thought of him as an accordion, later you'll know why.
"Papa would say a word and the girl would have to spell it aloud and then paint it on the wall, as long as she got it right. After a month, the wall was recoated. A fresh cement page."
Liesel's papa was the one who taught her the words. I envy this experience of Liesel. My papa did'nt have much time to teach me how to read or how to spell. He was too busy. My mama, too, was always busy. Unlike Liesel's mama and papa, mine were always away for work and went home tired. Although papa told us stories before we slept, but that was just once or twice a week (he went home every weekend). Yes, they were poor. But, they were always complete. I envy Liesel, because she had a lot of teachers. There was papa, Rudy, amma, Max, and even Death. I taught myself how to read, mostly. All I had was books, my teachers.
Liesel's mama called her Saumensch. It is a German word which means female pig. Her mama used it like a curse word because she wants to show she doesn't want Lisel. But, in reality, she loved Liesel. I know one person who was so much like Liesel's mama. I'm proud of that woman. Back to Liesel. Unlike what her mama calls her, she was a good girl, really. Yes, she thieved at times but she helped so many people in futilely little and catastrophically huge ways. Once, there was a bombing and the people on Himmel Street piled on a basemnet. Some of them were crying, some praying, and the book thief read. Then, the people listened and there was silence and there was calm. I admire her for that and envy her too. She calmed the people whose town was about to be bombed. I can't do that. I can't even make one person listen to me, no matter how truthful and beautiful my words are.
Liesel, however, was not just a book thief. She was also a Jew stealer. Liesel helped hide a Jew in their basement. She loved him too, not in a romantic wa, but more than just that. I tell you, it was more than that. Hiding a Jew in your basement, when you're German, could get you killed. That's how it was. But, instead of cowering in fear, Liesel Meminger loved the Jew. She's amazing in her bravery.
Lastly, what I really admired her for, was her words. She knew the power of words. She loved books. She marvelled at the sight of the very things that rendered her useless once. I can see myself in Liesel Meminger. Or rather, I can see the book thief in me.
Next on Death's list, some words. But they're not really just words. Because these things we call "words" were the threads that made up Liesel's fabric, her life. For a thing to affect so many lives, it would have to be very powerful. That's the power of words.
"She was a girl. In Nazi Germany. How fitting that she was discovering the power of words."
It, indeed, was fitting or should I say dangerous. The Fuhrer said, "I will never fire a gun. I will never have to." Why? Because he crafted words and bent the will of all of Germany, or most of it, to his. It was fitting because she may be one of the few who discovered the power of words and dangerous because all the others were mesmerized by it. No, I guess it wasn't just some words. Because those "some words" twisted the life of Liesel, as it twisted my heart. It's marvellous, how powerful words are. But I'm sad and and angry, too, for the book thief suffered and sacrificed so much because of it.
"Sometimes I think papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes."
The accordionist's accordion was one of the things that ,ade Liesel's life happy. It made me smile, everytime Liesel's papa plays the accordion, because I remember my papa. He sings for us and I feel happy. So much as the accordion was Liesel's happiness, so was his papa. Hans Hubermann was the fun and calming accordion to those who were around him.
"Then one human. Hans Hubermann... The Jew stood before him, expecting another handful of derision, but he watched with everyone else as Hans Hubermann held his hand out and presented a piece of bread, like magic."
As I read this line, I was like in Himmel Street, with the crowd, holding my breath in fear and compassion. Hans was human. He knew compassion and acted on it, even when kindness was costly in their time. He knew there consequences but he reacted still. Some might say he wasn't thinking straight, that he made no sense. But it made perfect sense to me. I tell you, at this point, I put down the book again (for the nth time) and stared into oblivion. What he did was scary and brave, and that made his action amazing, unbelievable even.
"The Germans loved to burn things. Shops, synagogues, Reichstags, houses, personal items, slain people and of course, books."
Already, the recipe was spicy but it became hotter because of the German fanatics. I hate these people. They were so naive, believing the Fuhrer. But I hate them more because they were too afraid to admit that they were afraid, so they believed and followed the Fuhrer. I was angry everytime I came across an event in the book wherein they did stupid things to show their loyalty to a monster. Like in a store at Himmel Street, a customer would not be entertained unless they saluted to the photograph of the Fuhrer on the store's window. Such stupidity, it made me grit my teeth.
The Jewish fist fighter. He made me look at myself in the mirror and ask, "Why do you sacrifice someone else to save yourself?" I asked myself because sometimes I was the Jewish fist fighter. I started fights, I act so brave, and I put a barrier around me. But really, truthfully, I am a coward. So, when I met this guy on his way to deserting his mother, I was happy and angry and sad ( not really in this order. more like a complex mixture). I was happy because I wasn't the only coward, I identified myself with him. I was angry because it was his mother he was leaving. And I was sad because no one should be made to choose between his life and his loved one's. It's heartbreaking, seeing one man lose all that he has because he was born a Jew. But, I was glad, in a way, because that event brought him to Liesel. His presence made Liesel bring out all the compassion she has.
"Incensed, he immediately ordered the tree to be cut down. That was when the word shaker made her way through the crowd. She fell to her hands and kness. 'Please,' she cried, "you can't cut it down.'"
The word shaker is Liesel and the tree is the Jewish fist fighter. I told you, she was amazing. But, let's focus on Max, the Jewish fist fighter. He redeemed himself. He walked away from Liesel's family when they were expecting to be inspected by the Nazis because of Hans' magic bread. He left and came back as a prisoner, walking on Himmel Street, chained to other Jews and communists, and Jew-lovers. He was chained but he became brave.
"She owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow dressed afternoon."
Now, we're down to the thievery. Death was right, there was quite a lot. When Liesel found the power of words, she started loving books and stole. She wasn't exactly stealing because a woman opened the window for her. But I liked to think she did. Because I admired the book thief for that. I smiled verytime she went stealing for a book. It was exhilarating! I can almost fell her excitement at holding a new book. I am like her in that way. Books have a certain nerve-wracking and nerve-calming effect on me. When Liesel was in the Mayor's house, inside the library, she was soothed and astounded. She let her hands touch the books. That's a lot like me. Sometimes, when I'm depressed, I stare at the books at BookSale ( a local bookstore but it's already closed). I read there. I almost want to steal because I only have enough money to get me home. That is where the book thief and I differed. SHe dared and I cowered.
"No one wanted to bomb Himmel Street. No one would bomb a place named after Heaven, would they? Would they?"
And this all happened in Hitler's Germany. Particularly in Molching and specifically in Himmel Street. A poor part of Molching but people were good, most of the time. They helped each other. Much like in our community. A thing I didn't know about Nazi Germany, people helping each other. We were taught that Nazi Germany was occupied by cruel people. But they weren't, they were just scared and I pity them.
"I'm not violent. I am not malicious. I am a result."
Let's not forget about the narrator, the one who brought me this story, Death. I always thought of death as something that i should be afraid of, and I still am afraid, terrified even. But this Death, he was different. I mean he's scary when he's hovering over a person ready to snuff out a life. Yet, somehow, Death touched me, here, in my heart. He was Death that didn't want to take away a life but he had to. It's sad being him. Having to do such an arduous task, for eternity, with no vacations.
As much as I love books, they brought me difficulties too. Liesel was saved by her words, she escaped the bombing. It was like the walls of their basement, the one that was covered with words, protected her from imminent death. But she also encountered danger at times. Just like I have. It's not that I'm blaming my books, but they were detrimental to most of my failures. I had problems, I had issues. So I used books as scapegoats. The thing is, I never escaped. I got trapped! I still love books though. Because I'm hoping, someday, it would save me too. Just as it saved the book thief.
"I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."
This whole story emphasized the power of words. It's power to manipulate people, change a person's life, and share these stories to everyone. But to me it's powerless, at least when I use them they are. I have words and only words. Maybe I need Death to tell the story for me. I'll refute what I said earlier. Liesel Maminger, the book thief, cannot be seen in me or I in her.
This personal reflection was written by the author when she was in her graduating year in college.
How One Book, One Girl, One Story Made Me Think... Really Think by Karen Kaye B. Lastimosa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://dancingmorphemes.weebly.com/blog/the-book-thief-reflection.