The Book Thief is a powerful story of a young girl, Nazi Germany, a Jewish fist fighter, a young boy, an accordion and the power of words. Narrated by Death, The Book Thief gives us the story of Liesel Meminger and her life during the tumultuous and shattering reign of Adolf Hitler war torn Germany.
Liesel is only a young girl when her Mother takes her to a new family, the Hubermann’s, who will raise her as their own. Tragedy has already struck young Liesel as she joins the small family of Hans and Rosa.
Liesel steals her first book at a train stop on her journey to the Hubermann’s. It is with this book that Hans teaches Liesel how to read and Liesel begins to understand the power of words. As Death continues to narrate, Liesel meets Rudy Steiner, who will become her best friend and Max Vandenburg, whose tragic past and uncertain future play a big role in the Hubermann’s life and will transform Liesel’s life forever.
What Death finds so remarkable about Liesel and why he continues to watch her story unfold even as he is desperately needed elsewhere is the ability of humans to continue to get up and survive, even after they have been beaten down repeatedly. He sees in Liesel a survivor.
Going in to this book, knowing Death is going to be the narrator and in addition the setting is Nazi Germany, you know it’s going to be a heart-breaking read. What sets this book apart from the hordes of novels set during this time is the view - not of the Jews and their poignant stories of gut-clenching tragedy and hope, not of the survivors or the allies. This is a story of a German girl, not persecuted in any obvious way but still a victim of the horror of the Third Reich.
I was swept away from page one. I was looking for an unforgettable book and I got it, tenfold. It’s emotional, anguishing, uplifting, inspiring and alive. It’s alive. It gives power to the written word. Amidst death and destruction it gives a glimpse of hope, of the power to take back a little, to pick yourself back up and look in the face of the monster and tell him you can’t beat me.
Through the voice of Death, we are able to see not only Liesel’s story but a broader spectrum, sometimes filled with ruminations on his work, sometimes spoilers and glimpses of what’s to come to young Liesel, to Rudy, Max and the Hubermann’s.
Liesel is a beautiful character and her story is one I will never forget but not only is Liesel a powerful character, but most of the characters in the book should be adored, Rudy and Max both broke my heart. Hans and Rosa, both loved Liesel but had vastly different ways of showing it.
The most prevailing theme in The Book Thief is Books as fuel for the soul, in the face of death and destruction to be soothed and lulled by the power of a book to find hope in the midst of chaos.
I’ll admit I had reservations about reading The Book Thief mainly because of its classification as a Young Adult novel as well as the overwhelming amount of books set during this time period. Don’t be like me, forget the classification, forget the setting, just pick this book up and read it, you won’t ever forget it. The Book Thief should be a classic.