I was captured from the first phrases. Death is the narrator. He tells the story of a young German girl during the time of the Nazis. The writing dazzled me. The story gripped me. The characters became part of me. The unchronological story-telling left me dreading the inevitable ending, yet somehow surprised when it happened. I finished it speechless and in tears.
Markus Zusak, is the young Australian author of the Book Thief. After just a minute of web-searching, I found that real life was indeed an inspiration behind this book. "When I was growing up, I heard stories at home about Munich and Vienna in war-time, when my parents were children. Two stories my mother told me affected me a lot. The first was about Munich being bombed, and how the sky was on fire, how everything was red. The second was about something else she saw..." He tells of how his mother saw Jews being marched to the concentration camp, Dachau. A village boy intervened to give an old man a piece of bread. The scene is rewritten into the book, it's poignancy all the more touching because it is not imagined, but the true actions of Germans horrified by what was happening to their country.
I appreciated hearing a German girl's point of view of the war. I should say that my maiden name is Ruebke. Changed at Ellis Island only a few generations back, it was originally, Rübke, a good Mennonite German name. Growing up in the Midwestern Turkey Red wheat fields, you don't think much about it; everyone has a German last name!
But then I moved to France. My husband's grandmother thanked me, as an American, the first day I met her. Why? She then showed me an article of the Americans who had liberated her village. I found out my city of Wichita and my husband's of Orléans are sister cities, because it was soldiers from Wichita who played a part in the liberation of Orléans. Then people asked my maiden name, my family background etc. They're curious about my short American genealogy; my husband has a family tree dating back to the 1600's. Nobody says anything when I announce my strong German heritage, but the conversation generally flows to the fact that my family moved to America before the war, that my forefathers were Mennonites and Conscientious Objectors...and the feeling is that I am more American than German. Which is true; I speak nary a word of the language and have difficulty remembering the name of the town where distant cousins still reside.
Yet, the tale of the German girl of the Book Thief, resonated with me. I think of my tiny Great-Aunt Elsa, with her strong accent, of the million mispronunciations of Ruebke...of how my family would have been very different, or not survived at all. I think it made the well-written story all the more moving for me, because it reached out touch a piece of my real life. Is there a story, book or film, that grabbed you, because of your family history?
Now, my mom and I can both say, you have to read this book...
So I'm doing a giveaway of an ebook copy of the Book Thief (as a gift through amazon.com). All you have to do is say in the comments that you'd like to join in, then I'll use random.org to pick a comment number. This is open internationally and you have until MIDNIGHT (Paris time, which is GMT+1, and I hope that's not too confusing!) on Monday the 23rd of January. You are not obligated to be a follower to join, but thank you again to all you who follow or read and comment here! Bisous!