I make it a policy not to read books about dogs. The dogs always die, leaving behind a sobbing character and often a sobbing reader. It’s for this same reason that I never read books about Jews in Nazi Germany. They are always depressing.
Another policy of mine is to never read modern day YA fiction, especially not if they’re super popular. This sounds mean, but I’ve rarely read a modern YA fiction that I thought was written well and had characters that were sensible. I’m not a fan of these ‘hysterical lovesick teens on steroids’ characters that keep popping up. Also, I find a lot of questionable morals when I read YA, especially modern writing. Okay, I guess I should stop talking now before I alienate half of my readership.
Smoothly switching topics. With all of this in mind, it’s very odd that I decided to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. After all, it’s set in Nazi Germany, with one Jewish character and one character with communist parents. It’s also YA fiction and extremely popular. But I thought, eh, what do I have to lose? I’ll probably just walk away feeling like there’s no hope for humanity, but I’ll get over it.
How wrong I was.
I walked away feeling like there was every possible hope for humanity. And I didn’t get over it.
Let me explain why. But first, the description:
Death, who is haunted by humans.
Liesel, the book thief.
Max, the Jew who fought Hitler and stole the sky.
Rudy, the boy with hair like lemons who has two ambitions: to race like Jesse Owens and to earn a single kiss from the only girl he will ever love.
The lives of these four are forever entwined by the power of words.
The first book Liesel Meminger ever stole was The Grave Digger’s Handbook. She didn’t exactly steal it. Somebody dropped it and she just decided not to return it to him. But it is with this book that Liesel begins her career as a book thief. Of course, to most people in her position, books aren’t worth stealing. She lives on the street who’s name translates to Heaven in English, but it’s about as far from Heaven as one can get. She never has enough food, her foster parents are suspected of being anti-Hitler, something that would be proven beyond a doubt if the Gestapo ever learned what they are keeping in their basement: a young Jew. Under the circumstances, stealing banned books would seem like an unnecessary risk. But Leisel understands something, something that many people cannot fathom. Words have the power to change lives, to change the world. They bring pain, they bring joy, but, most importantly, they allow us to survive.
To be honest, I didn’t know YA authors could still write like Markus Zusak did in this story. I will not say that this book was well-written, because that doesn’t do it justice. This book was beautiful, the words strung along in patterns like nothing I’ve ever seen before, the characters more vivid than people I know in real-life.
Oh, and the book is narrated by Death. I tell people this and they give me a ‘That’s creepy Hannah, how can you enjoy something like that?’ look. Sure, a book narrated by death could be horribly dark, gruesome, morbid. But The Book Thief is not. Death watches over humans, waiting to collect their souls, determined not to become involved in their lives. But Liesel catches his eye, and he watches her grow. And he is puzzled, puzzled by the way humans are. When, at the end of the book, he finally meets Liesel and is ready to take her, he says:
I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain to her that I am constantly over-estimating and under-estimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.
None of these things, however, came out of my mouth.
All I was able to do was to turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.
***A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR***
I am haunted by humans.
This book taught me many things. The above passage in particular taught me something very important
The world is not divided into good people and bad people. We’re not divided into ugly and glorious, damning and brilliant. Each of us have a little of each of these in us. That’s what makes us so unique, so horribly unique. We have the power to change lives, but sometimes we use this power to destroy people rather than build them up. And with what tool do we do this? Words. That is why Liesel says:
I have hated the words, and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.
Liesel understood how horrible words are, how much destruction they can do. But she also saw how much good can be done through them. Leisel recognized that people, through the words they speak and write, can make a beautiful difference in the world. And her goal, unlike so many others, is to be sure that she makes her words right.
Sometimes she fails, sometimes she succeeds, but that is what is expected of her because she is human. Humans are brutal and ugly, but also beautiful and glorious. We are not to be over-estimated or under-estimated. We are simply to be estimated.
I think that Rosa Hubermann, Leisel’s foster mother, is a perfect example of humanity as a whole. She’s not particularly nice. She has a foul mouth, a nasty temper, and seems to take pleasure in shouting at everyone within earshot. And yet she has a beautiful side to her. She sits up every night that her husband is gone, holding his accordion and praying for him. She loves Leisel perhaps more than anything in the world. And she risks her life to house a Jew, sitting up at night with him when he is sick, and feeding him soup to nurse him back to health.
Pea soup, to be exact.
|*Note: This chapter is titled 'Peace,' not 'Pea.'|
That’s about the only food they ever eat. It’s watery and tastes horrible. But it’s all they have, and Rosa is willing to share it with Max (the Jew).
It’s a recurring joke in the book. Everyone eats the soup, nobody likes it, but nobody complains…at least not while Rosa is within earshot. So I decided I would try to make pea soup that tastes better than Rosa’s. Here’s what I came up with:
- ½ medium russet potato, cubed
- ¼ of a shallot, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 cup of peas. I used frozen green peas and thawed them for about 10 minutes
- 2 and ¾ cups of chicken broth
- Olive oil
My dad told me that, traditionally, some kind of ham goes into pea soup. I decided not to use any because I’m vegetarian, but also because, in the book, they didn’t have enough money to buy ham.
1. Heat olive oil in pan. Sauté the shallots and garlic until shallots become translucent.
2. Add chicken broth, potatoes, and peas. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked. How can you tell? Gouge them with a fork. If the fork goes in easily, it’s done.
3. Transfer all ingredients into a vitamix. If you don’t have a vitamix, I guess you could try using a stick blender or some other kind of blender.
4. If using vitamix, start on variable 1, quickly move to 10, and then high. Blend for about 40 seconds, or until smooth. It will get frothy and is much smoother than traditional pea soup. That’s okay, it’s supposed to be like that:
5. Add salt to taste.
6. Take a moment of silence to honor the hundreds of peas who gave up their lives for the making of this blog post.
7. Serve and enjoy.
And that’s it. I’ve never had pea soup before, so I don’t know if this tastes the way that most pea soup tastes. But it’s green, it's pea-flavored, and I liked it, so that’s good enough for me. I like to think that Leisel would enjoy this soup more than Rosa’s.
Comment below with your thoughts! I’d love meet other fans of The Book Thief.