Published by Knopf on March 14th 2006
Genres: Young Adult
It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
Death serves as our narrator in this chilling novel. He quickly explains that he does not in any way look like the grim ripper that pop culture has perceived him to be, such as wearing a black cloak and carrying a scythe, but instead is just like you and me… well sort of. Like a teacher who remembers a favorite student Death tells the tale of Liesel Meminger, a girl who he brushed past while doing his job.
We first meet Liesel Meminger by her brother’s grave site during Nazi Germany. While mourning her brother she picks up The Gravediggers Handbook. I guess you could call it a memento. This memento begins the art of thievery and the need to learn how to read.
Soon after this event she is shipped off to a foster family, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Hans and Rosa contrast each other nicely, like the “Jack Sprat” nursery rhyme. Rosa is short and never walks but waddled, while she appears to be a strict disciplinarian her seemingly ice-cold heart is really made of gold. Hans is tall and lean with a very outgoing personality with a love for playing the accordion. It is also through him that Liesel learns to read The Gravediggers Handbook.
Just when things are getting settled on Himmel Street Hans fulfills a promise to Erick Vandenburg, who saved his life during the first Wold War. This promise was to do anything for his family as payment, that payment is hiding Erick’s son Max, a Jew in his basement. Even though there is a constant fear that they may be found out life continues on as normally as possible. Not only are the Hubermanns closeting a Jew but they are also in close proximity to Dachau making Jews walking through their town a regular occurrence.
Throughout all this turmoil, Liesel Meminger continues to steal books from book burnings and the personal library of the mayor. Although, this ability turns out to be a blessing in disguise while in the neighborhood bomb shelter. Unfortunately, this also turns into a curse and her savior by the end of book.
What didn’t I like about The Book Thief? It was extremely well written, and was an excellent young adult crossover with the subject matter being the Holocaust. I think because it described events in a way that didn’t dumbed it down too much for adult readers, making them feel like they were reading a first or second grade level book, but was explanatory enough that a teen could understand it. I also really enjoyed that it was told from Death’s perspective, this was so unique and original and actually made the reader feel empathy for him, maybe because of the sadness that comes with the job.
Liesel, her foster family and the residence of Himmel Street stay with you long after closing the book as they all seem so real leaving a huge impact on the reader. This is my second time reading The Book Thief and cried after completing it, I had a repeat performing last week as well, which is hard to do as I’ve been stamped as an ice princess. Not to sound like a back cover, but this book is destined to become a classic.