Here is a small fact: You are going to die.
You know when a book opens with such blunt reality, it’s going to be a little heavy. But I was pleasantly surprised at how much lightness Zusak was able to incorporate into The Book Thief. The characters are endearing such that the tragic story is almost bearable. Get out the tissues; this one is a tear-jerker!
It’s the beginning of World War II in Nazi Germany, and Death, our narrator, is starting to have a very busy schedule. He meets Liesel Meminger for the first time as she is on her way to her new foster home near Munich. She’s nine years old and her brother has just died. At his funeral, she steals her first book, The Grave Digger’s Handbook. But to her it’s just a memento; she doesn’t know what it is because she can’t read.
As she begins to adjust to her new life with the foster family, she slowly starts to open up to her new foster father, a kind-hearted painter and musician. He comforts her every night when she wakes from nightmares, and soon they are staying awake until the early hours having reading lessons. She begins to fare better in school, and she becomes fast friends with her neighbor, Rudy. Perpetual sidekicks, they go on to steal many more books, among other things, and she becomes an insatiable reader.
Everything changes for Liesel and her foster family when a Jew shows up at their house in the middle of the night. Making good on a promise made 20 years before, Liesel’s foster father, Hans, has agreed to hide Max from the Nazi’s. Political, social and emotional turmoil abounds as the family does what they know to be right despite the obvious risks.
As death pointed out in the very beginning, everyone is going to die. True to that fact, many of the characters in this book meet an untimely end, and it is incredibly heart-wrenching. Still, this book highlighted for me the resilience of the human spirit and the preciousness of the time and experiences we have, however short. Despite all of the hardship and loss in Liesel’s life, she always found a way to continue on.
I was struck by the vivid imagery Zusak weaves into the story. As Death explains, he sees colors with every death, so there is a lot of focus on color and the mood it sets as he wanders the world picking up the souls of the casualties of war. I am curious to see how (and if) the movie plays on color for visual effect. (I haven’t seen the movie yet, so don’t tell me!! I’ll update the post after I see it…)
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed The Book Thief and would highly recommend it.