The Book Thief is a story set in Nazi Germany during World War II. I’m a fan of historical fiction about wartime stories and read quite a few of it, but this one was a unique read. While I love fiction about survival stories, The Book Thief tells the story from German people’s perspective. A completely different angle, but what makes the story unique is the narrator – Death, who claims he/she is haunted by humans. One such human is Liesel Meminger, a young girl whose parents are believed to be Communists and whose mother decides to give them up to foster care to keep Liesel and her brother safe. Death ‘meets’ Liesel for the first time on their train trip to Molching – a trip her 6 year old brother unfortunately didn’t survive.
The novel tells the story of the inhabitants of Himmel Street and their plight to preserve their lives and those of the people they care about. Not every German shared the opinions of the Nazi party and many of them had to do as they were told in order to survive. Some even took dangerous chances, such as hiding their Jewish friends like Liesel’s foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, did. Liesel and Hans bonded over books when Hans realized that the little book thief couldn’t read. He taught her to read during early hours of the morning when she couldn’t sleep due to nightmares – mostly about her mother. She eventually learned to read better and her love for books and lack of access to them made her steal books from various sources, including during one of the Nazi book burnings.
During the novel we get to know the other unassuming inhabitants of Himmel Street, including Liesel’s best friend , Rudi Steiner, the boy next door. A sweet boy who Liesel shares a beautiful friendship with. We also get to know Max, the Jew the Hubermanns were hiding. We read about the bombings, how Hans’ son called him a coward for not wanting to fight in the war and for being against the Nazis, Rosa and Liesel’s fear for Hans’ life when he eventually gave himself up in service of the Nazis. You see, back then if you didn’t do as expected or serve the Nazis they became suspicious. Being suspected is not something you want, especially if you’re hiding a Jew.
Liesel’s love for reading and books grew even more when the Mayor’s wife (who caught her when she stole a book during one of the book burnings) shared her books with Liesel and offered for her to come read any book she wanted when she would drop off the laundry her mother did for the Mayor. When Liesel retells one of the stories she read, one evening during a bombing, to her nervous and distressed neighbours, she reminded me each time of the value of stories and reading and why I enjoy the escapism that books offer me.
The Book Thief is another example of a book that I’ve read after I have seen the movie. I did read a sample of the book a few years ago when the book became popular, but after seeing the movie I fear that I’ve written it off too soon. I did so, because I didn’t like the writing style, but when reading the book I realized that once you get passed the first few pages, you will get used to the narrating style. The story is most definitely worth the read and probably now one of my favourite WWII fiction novels.
Unlike with the movie, the ending of The Book Thief was quite emotional, but for those who have read the book (or seen the movie) would know what I’m referring to. In fact, I think not mentioning the reason for the tears I’ve shed at the end of the book is quite pointless, because so many are familiar with The Book Thief that maybe it would not even be a “spoiler”. This is a story of courage, friendship and tragedy that I would recommend you read, regardless of whether you enjoy historical fiction/WWII stories or not.
Have you read The Book Thief or seen the movie? Share your thoughts with me!