It’s quite funny how I came to possess my copy of The Book Thief. You see, I was gazing longingly at it in my favourite book shop but unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money on me to buy it. A few days later, by some odd miracle, my friend gave me that very book saying someone on a British Airways flight had left it behind and her aunt who works for the airline had given it to her and she in turn gave it to me.
All in all, it ended up in my hands… so thank you kind stranger and good friend.
Much like how I received my copy, The Book Thief tells the tale of Liesel Meminger, a young girl in the throes of Nazi Germany who finds reconciliation in the form of books she happens across or happens to steal. A dangerous habit to culminate in the country of book burnings, Liesel keeps her interest in books a secret. Yet it is a secret she cannot keep by herself.
An omniscient narrator in the form of Death oversees the story of how the nine-year-old’s mother gave her up to live with her foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann in Molching. Shortly after, Hans discovers a book she’d kept for herself called the Gravedigger’s Handbook and he teaches her to read it. And so the secret was kept by two.
While starting her love affair with the written word, Liesel befriends a boy named Rudy Steiner, who always cheekily asks her for a kiss. Rudy provides a comic streak to the narrative with his obsession to be like Jesse Owens and it’s no wonder Death was particularly amused by this little boy to the point where it hurt him in the end.
“He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.” – Death, talking about Rudy.
With books and some street football, it seems like Liesel is finally settled into her new life, only to be shaken up again when a Jew named Max Vandenburg, son of Hans’ deceased friend comes to stay in hiding in the Hubermann’s basement, threatening every souls safety below that roof. This is where the story really takes off. It touches upon hard times, sickness, snow and most of all, love and friendship.
Author Markus Zusak executes this style of writing with beautifully crafted sentences, reading like poetry.
“People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.”
What makes the book unique is that although it is set in the time of Hitler’s regime, the story gives little overt importance to this fact. Also, for once, it does not take a Jewish German’s point of view, rather the other Germans who were also adversely affected, people who are often overlooked when portraying the Holocaust.
Overall, Zusak’s critically acclaimed masterpiece has been well-recieved by critics and USA Today even went so far as to say, “The Book Thief deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank“. However much I like The Book Thief, this statement adds insult to injury to Anne Frank’s account of her experience in hiding. Although The Book Thief is artistically written, sometimes the gravity of the Holocaust and its times is lost and perhaps portrayed rather mildly.
If you wish to read a realistic account of the Holocaust, The Book Thief is not your cup of tea but if you wish to read a refreshing and ficitonal perspective of this period of history, then please go ahead and get a copy (however you can).
The Book Thief Movie
As always, the book is indisputable when compared to the motion picture adaptation but having said that, the film does the book justice and the cast is impeccable in their portrayal of these heart-felt characters. Go ahead and watch it once you’ve finished reading the book!