The Book Thief
First published in: 2006
This edition: Black Swan, 2007
Cover design by Claire Ward. Cover illustration by Finn Campbell-Notman.
The Book Thief is a story about a nine year-old girl in Germany. Liesel is her name. And she lives on Himmel Street, Munich. (Heaven Street.) Her little brother died a while ago, and her parents have been shipped off to concentration camps. World War 2 is about to begin its destruction.
The narrator of Liesel's story? Death himself.
Death takes a liking towards Liesel, whom he first met when he came to take her little brother away. This was before the war broke out. Some years later, as Liesel moves to Himmel Street to live with her foster parents, Death observes her new life. He tells us about Liesel cheering on her best friend Rudy as he runs, like his hero Jesse Owens. About Liesel bonding with a wanted Jew named Max (Liesel's moments with Max were my favourite parts of the book). About Liesel finding an unlikely friend in the mayor's wife, finding distraction in her library. Oh, and Death also tells us about Liesel stealing a few books while she's at it. The Book thief. Death cannot seem to let her go.
Death is likeable, however. He's not scary, but sympathetic. But the likability of Death doesn't make the book endearing or cute. The book is, after all, still about death, no capital letter D.
I tend to avoid stories set during World War 2, because the cruelty of those years is too much to bear at times. The Book Thief is moving, most definitely. I just didn't expect to feel such overwhelming sadness when I finished it. I was not expecting a feel good book, absolutely not, but the effect this book had on me… the effect it still has on me is why I typically stay clear of WW2 literature.
What I did like about Zusak's book in relation to WW2, is that it was written from the German point of view. A misconception is that 'all Germans agreed with Hitler!' while in reality, the majority of them did not, and if they did, it was because they were forced, threatened, killed. Fear is a powerful weapon. Others probably just didn't know any better. Zusak shows that side of the war.
This book is suitable for adults mostly, but also for young adults, to whom I'd recommend they pick up a copy of this book instead of (re-)reading Twilight. (Yes, I mention Twilight again, but this time I do it because The Book Thief is an example of YA literature that actually really deserves as much or more attention as YA books such as the Twilight books.)
Despite the fact that the protagonist is a little girl, the book is not for children; the story has lovely elements but is generally tragic. The Book Thief is a tremendously good read, but it speaks the cold-hearted truth about one of the low points in human history.
But I'm glad I have read it. It's not often these days that you find a book that stays with you, forever. The Book Thief is hard as steel at times, but it's a steal of a book.
R&R series (and its photos, reviews) © Karin Elizabeth 2008-2009
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