Friday, 14 December 2012

Through Germany with the Book Thief and Zusak

First the colours.
Then the humans.
That's how I usually see things.
Or at least, how I try.

Markus Zusak perspective of Nazi Germany is a strange one - observed through the eyes of death. And it is his quirky, original way take on the world that made me fall in love with his novel, The Book Thief. Zusak takes one of Europe's (and the world's) darkest moments and injects it with humour and hope - but doesn't shrink from describing the horrors of that grim period of history.
The book is not perfect but it is original and clever. The characterisation (larger than life; cartoon-like) is a joy to read. The creativity of his language is inspirational, but when Zusak gets caught up with telling his story, he doesn't manage to sustain the level of creativity found in the first pages of the book.
The structure of the book, however, is innovative: The small fact files that break up the text, act as pointers, glossary and sub-titles all rolled into one, allowing the book to breathe.
The grim reaper as protagonist works well too, and the motif of colour throughout allows Zusak to write scenes of sumptious creativity.
Zusak's portrayal of Liesel and her relationship with her foster family and the street kids she befriends could verge on the sentimental, but the tough and humorous characters he creates lets him off the hook.
This book was my companion as I travelled through Germany, camping along the Baltic coast and on down through Swiss Saxony before reaching Bavaria. I started seeing Germany through Zusak's eyes: the absurdity, the generousity, the small-mindedness, the individuality, the humour, the weaknesses and the strengths of my fellow human beings encountered along the way:
There was the wild-eyed German at one campsite who threatened to call the police because we'd kicked a flaming gas canister into the centre of the field (out of the way of our tent, car and children), even though we had put the fire out!
There was the large-bellied cook in dungarees on a Ruegen campsite (who had built a metal cocoon, segments of tapered corrugated tin, called the 'Woodpecker Cave') who fed us on pineapple and shouted so loudly he might as well have been speaking through a megaphone.
 There was the monstrous Hitler 'holiday camp,'  5 miles long (but never saw a single  holidaymaker); a building of such misguided ambition, it stood like a decaying beached whale on the shoreline with its cracked concrete and broken windows.
There was the excited carpark attendant on the Island of Usedom whose eyes nearly popped out of his head when he 'saw' my young son driving - he had never seen a right-hand drive before. So thrilled to meet a Brit, he exclaimed he would have bought me a bunch of flowers if only he had known I was coming.
There was the rattling trabi on the autobahn trundling along at a stately 40 miles per hour; an older couple peering through the window. They'd waited years to get their precious car. The metal wasn't much thicker than a can of baked beans - but all their dreams were contained in that scrap of metal. They weren't about to give it up any day soon.
Sometimes as I travelled, the absurd, the funny, the tragic and the colour of Zusak's created world merged with my own real life journey through Germany. He added flavour to an unusual holiday, and I realised, his larger-than-life portrayal of war-time Germany was not so far removed from real life in the present day Germany.
Zusak just helped me see it ...

This post has been entered into the blogging competition at the works here:

I nominate 3 bloggers:


  1. This sounds like the perfect travel companion for reading in Germany. Definitely putting it on my TBR list.
    Thanks for the nomination. Unfortunately, the day I found out about this, there was only one day left to enter, but I love the idea. Best of luck to you in the competition!

  2. Great book. It will not disappoint! No worries about the blog competition.

  3. I loved the book. Not too many stay in my memory these days. Maybe it was because of my Polish heritage. Sounds like an interesting trip you had.

  4. It was fantastic (although it rained a lot!) Interesting as not many non-German people go to these parts of Germany. The Book Thief is definitely one of my favourite books (very creatively written).