Release Date: 2005
Genre: Teen Fiction
Source: Bought at B&N
Rating: 5 Bookworms
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
This book was amazing in a manner that is almost beyond words, and has definitely made it into my extensive list of favorite books -- although it may have actually reached top five. I’ve heard from numerous people that The Book Thief was an incredible read, but this is one of those books where you have to read it to believe it.
The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, who, in the beginning, is a mere ten years old. Her story begins in 1939 Germany at her brother’s graveside. They were both to be delivered to a foster family by their impoverished mother, but, obviously, her brother never made it. It is here where Liesel Meminger commits her first act of book thievery, a habit which will continue despite the fact that she is illiterate when she first steals The Grave Digger’s Handbook.
Liesel’s new foster family is composed of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who live on 31 Himmel Street in Molching. Hans Hubermann -- Liesel’s Papa -- is a kindly accordionist who rolls his own cigarettes and whose kindly silver eyes are always there for Liesel. He is the one who, despite being barely literate himself, eventually teaches Liesel to read, and thereby truly instills a love of books in Liesel. Rosa Hubermann -- Liesel’s Mama -- is a rough, swearing, cardboard-faced wardrobe of a woman with elastic hair and an enormous heart beneath all of her more intimidating layers. She supports the family by doing the laundry of the more wealthy families in Molching.
Liesel’s life is quickly turned upside down when her family takes in a Jew named Max Vandenburg. He comes to the Hubermann household in desperation, as a last-resort option stemming from a promise made by Hans Hubermann over 20 years ago. It’s probably the most dangerous thing a family could do, but Rosa, surprisingly, doesn’t curse at the situation, and Hans says, “A promise is a promise.” Liesel, although at first terrified of the stranger in her basement, comes to love Max as family. The reader, too, comes to love Max, with his swampy eyes, hair like feathers, and daydreams of battling the Führer. He’s rather selfless, and it pains him to put the Hubermanns in so much danger, although he has no other option.
The Book Thief is filled with a whole host of interesting side characters. Most prominent is Rudy Steiner, a little boy with hair the color of lemons, an obsession with Jesse Owens, and the biggest crush on Liesel. He’s Liesel’s best friend, and, although she won’t admit it, a little bit more than that. Also a part of Liesel’s story are the ever-twitching Tommy Müller, Frau Holtzapfel -- who for an inexplicable reason has an intense rivalry with Mama -- the kind-hearted food thief Arthur Berg, the intimidating whistler Pfiffikus, and the fluffy-haired and very strange mayor’s wife, Ilsa Hermann. Zusak does a fantastic job of utilizing these characters to shape Liesel while making sure that they develop as well.
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about The Book Thief is the narrator and the exquisite description. The entire story is narrated by Death himself, which is a fascinating and fitting perspective. I enjoyed the writing style of the book even more, though. Zusak often makes use of synesthesia, where you use one sense to describe another, and colors are highly emphasized. They make for wonderfully vivid descriptive passages, and are a descriptive style that is more rarely utilized.
The Book Thief was an unbelievably astonishing book that I highly recommend. It is full of emotion, and I found myself laughing, serious, and, for the last fourth of the book, crying so hard that I struggled to see the words on the page. It was also fun to read a book about World War II from the perspective of a German. This book was intense and breathtaking, and is not likely to be a book I’ll forget.