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It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.

So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

 

The Book Thief is by far the best book I have ever read.

Yes, bold statement, but true. And yes, in the grand scheme of it all, I am only a small reader in a worldwide pool of voracious readers, and have yet to even scratch the surface of the number of great books out there in Literature Land. But to date, it is ranked as my number one by a very long way.

It was the writing that captured my attention … When she looked up, the sky was crouching; … the words fell like injuries from his mouth; Her feet scolded the floor; Air breathed up her pyjama sleeves. They would each greet me like their last true friend, with bones like smoke, and their souls trailing behind.

Marcus Zusak, an Australian writer, gives a master class on how to write prose that is poetic, a narrative that is insightful, and he weaves a storyline that is every bit heart-wrenching from what we’d expect from a book based around Nazi Germany war times. However, hemmed beautifully amongst the dark veil that shrouds the story, Zusak brings light, and it shines wonderfully to lift our spirits, to guide us steadily, and to help us to the end of a truly captivating story.

Of course, there are interesting characters that you learn to love and some that you learn to hate, and a narrator, without giving it away, is simply to die for. These characters create a platform that teaches us the many layers and the varying colours of the human soul.

Liesel Meminger, the book thief, is the main character. Her brother dies on their journey to live with foster parents in a small country town in Germany, and she is alone to start a new life with nothing more than a book she stole at his burial. Through her life with her new family and friends, Rudi Steiner and a Jewish stowaway named Max Vandenburg, we learn about friendships and hardships, love and death, and about courage and hope in the midst of cruelty and adversity.

The Book Thief is masterful and eloquent. It is crafted with intelligence and saturated with creative genius. The story has power and the words are like dancing musical notes, blending wonderfully to create art that easily moves you. I was captured, touched, and provoked to feel—driven to tears and laughter within a single sentence.

If you’re a reader, then I urge you to absorb yourself in the narrative. If you’re a writer, then I beg you to take note of the style and technique and applaud the effort it has taken to create such a masterpiece. I highly recommend reading this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

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To Kill a Mockingbird is a story written in the tired old town of Maycomb Alabama, where the people moved slowly, and a day seemed more than twenty-four hours long, and the years around 1935 offered nothing more than only vague optimism. This is how Harper Lee introduces us to the setting in the first few pages of her bestselling novel.

Harper Lee, born in 1926 Monroeville Alabama, uses her experience of living in a small town during hard times to capture her story. The story is told from the point of view of Jean Louis Finch, more commonly known as Scout, who recalls the events leading up to and the aftermath of the trial of Tom Robinson.

Harper Lee first introduces us to Scout and older brother Jem and establishes these two siblings as a tight-knit duo. Next we meet Dill, the next-door neighbour, who is sent to Maycomb County every year for the summer. It’s through his friendship with Jem and Scout and his learning of the citizens of Maycomb County that he becomes fascinated with the creepy house and the creepy character known as Boo Radley. It’s during this period of time when Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, is chosen to represent and defend a Negro man on the severe charge of raping a white woman.

There are many issues that are highlighted through the book, the main ones being poverty, lack of education, indifference, and racism, and Scout, along with her brother Jem and neighbour Dill, highlight these issues in a very innocent and childlike fashion, dismantling ideals and values that were still very much prevalent during the sixties when the novel was written and published.

There are a number of interesting characters throughout the book that bring light to the different issues the town faces. Calpurnia for example, is the house-maid who takes the role of helping Atticus and is pivotal in raising his children. Through her, we get to walk in the shoes of a Negro woman, to understand the outrage and the voice of disapproval that racial segregation and the blatant injustice of their fellow black man, in Tom Robinson, has in their lives and community. In a time when a white man’s word overruled any others, Tom’s chances of being found innocent are slim. And it’s through the trial that we see the real hero of the book come to the fore.

Atticus shows us understanding and tolerance, the belief that we each can be ourselves without conforming to what is expected for us to be; to walk in each others’ shoes before passing judgement, and to see the beauty in all living things. We see this in the manner that he parents his children. We see this in the way he treats everybody in Maycomb, and we see this in the way he represents Tom in the trial. Through Atticus, we see a man with respect and values, compassion and understanding, and the courage to stand up and fight for what is right.

Through the adult situation of the trial and the youthful antics of Scout, Jem and Dill to get the recluse, Boo Radley, out of his house, To Kill a Mockingbird takes us through a journey of growth and understanding, where the tired old town of Maycomb County comes to life during the summer of 1935.

I loved the book and the messages that it conveys. I loved how Harper Lee used a young innocent child like Scout to break down and exploit the injustices of her town and our world by showing us a fictionalised story mirrored on the realities of what was all too common during those times, and indeed still today in some parts of our world. I thought that Maycomb County was cleverly written and Harper Lee brings it to life like one of the many interesting characters in the book, with a voice and a history that is as interesting as any other in the novel. To Kill a Mockingbird has tension and comedy, action and mystery, and themes and plots that serve to both entertain and educate. I highly recommend reading this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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