Time for my second book review from my honeymoon adventures. And let me tell you, today is another good one. While our apartment had a TON of TV channels, all of TWO had regular English language programming. This lead to a ton of reading. That made this girl a very happy lady, but let’s just say I didn’t pack for that.
I actually picked up my second read, The Book Thief by Markus Zusac, at the Munich train station. Not ideal (hello expensive) but I had heard a lot about this book and had a good feeling it would be worth the money.
I was right 🙂
The Book Thief is a beautifully written story about a young foster girl set in WW2 Germany. Stick with me here, the novel is narrated by Death. Yes, I said beautifully written and narrated by Death. It works, trust me.
We begin by being introduced to Leisel Meminger, our young main character, and her birth mother and brother in the middle of a train ride to be dropped off with a foster family. Immediately the trauma begins for Leisel as her brother passes away during the travels. The story jumps to his funeral, where while laying her brother to rest, Leisel finds and steals her first book as a keepsake of her lost family. Through all of this, Leisel is left by her mother with her new foster family, the Hubberman’s. This is a very tough transition for the young girl at first, but in time Leisel becomes close to her foster family, specially her Papa. The two bond over sleepless nights and nightmares, which turns into their personal reading time after Papa finds Leisel’s stolen book. It is this time that solidifies her love for books and reading.
Leisel’s second brush with thievery is at a Nazi book burning, where she finds a lone book that was saved from the fire. She braves the dangers and takes the book with her, but immediately recognizes that she was not alone — The mayor’s wife, Mrs. Hermann, saw the young girl take the book. Leisel and her father continue their overnight reading lessons with this second book and in an unexpected turn of events, the young girl actually creates a bond with the mayors wife over the book theft- spending countless hours reading in the mayor’s library.
At this point in the story the war and tensions begin to build and life becomes more and more of a struggle for the Hubberman’s. The family, due to a past debt by Papa, take in a young Jewish man who stays in their basement. This relationship becomes key for every member of the household, but as one can imagine also creates a lot of social strain. The young girl and Jew bond over words and books and create an impactful and important relationship, even during the tumultuous time. As safety truly becomes a concern, the small town that they live in becomes increasingly troubled and the interactions for the young girl become much more severe. Papa is taken to war and the family is left to try and battle through this tough time. Even through these trying moments our Book Thief stays an amazingly resilient, bright and beautiful character.
Yes, I was in Germany and old Austria while I read The Book Thief, and maybe that influenced my experience. But either way, I was moved by this book. While it’s a bit dark, I loved Death as a narrator. It added elements to the telling of the story that were unique and moving. As is often the case with an all knowing narrator, you are given hints and previews of the ultimate outcome through out the entire story, but it takes absolutely nothing away from the experience.
This is a story told in a very dark time of our history, and that fact is not hidden. BUT, having a young girl with eyes wide open as your lead allows you to get such a unique vantage point of said time. The emotions that are brought up through her story never ceased to amaze me and at multiple points brought me to tears.
I would put this book right up there with other moving WW2 stories like Anne Frank. The story telling was almost so beautiful that I’m scared to the see the movie. Almost ;). . .