I’ve been putting off this post for a while because I’m not quite sure how to approach this book. So many have read it and reviewed it, but for whatever reason I haven’t been able to get ahold of my thoughts. But…times a tickin’ so its time to get on with it.
The Book Thief is the story of a young girl, Liesel, in Nazi Germany told through Death’s narration. Yes, Death personified. Death becomes interested in Liesel’s story when he comes to pick up her brother after he dies; Death, against his better judgment, goes to the funeral and sees little Liesel picking up a book from the snow—her first act of book thievery. Shortly after Liesel’s brother dies, her mother moves her to a foster home on Himmel Street where her world is quickly turned upside down. Her world and everyone else’s. (While I don’t think I can possibly cut this short, I will not give spoilers).
Liesel’s new living situation is not easy. Her new Mama is slightly abusive and walks all over her and her new Papa. Papa, though, takes Liesel under his wing as he comforts her during her nightmares and teaches her to read her stolen book. Liesel also finds sanctuary when chumming around with her new friend Rudy as well as in the mayor’s wife’s library where she retreats after she delivers and picks up the laundry for Mama.
But everything changes when one day a strange man shows up at the house looking for Liesel’s Papa. Max is a Jew. He has left his family, gone into hiding, and is barely surviving. Papa has made a promise to help Max, so it is agreed that Max can live in the basement. At first Liesel is a little frightened of Max, but soon they grow to be good friends—especially when Liesel realizes that Max also has nightmares. But, keeping a Jew in the basement is dangerous. Just as giving bread to Jews as they march to the concentration camp, as Papa does, is dangerous. Everything in Nazi Germany has its consequences.
After reading stellar reviews about this book in the blogosphere for the past six months, I was finally able to get my hands on a copy. I devoured the 550 pages in a few short days (don’t let the label of YA fool you—this is a rich novel). While sometimes I flew through the chapters, there were others where I was so overcome by emotion that every word took effort to absorb. But what I found so fitting in this novel, so perfect, was that it is about words. The power of words and what we are with them—and without them. How words can bring an unlikely person into power and consequently change the world as we know it.
This is a beautiful book and it will stick with me for a long time. I loved Death’s narration; his style is effortlessly engaging—sometimes witty, sometimes unbearably true. And while I’m not quite sure what I will do with what I took away from this book, I will continue to pass this book on to others. I hope you’ll read it, too.