The Book Thief is about a girl, Leisel Meminger, growing up in Germany during World War Two. When I say that, you probably are thinking “she was Jewish'' or “she stood up to the Nazis, and fought bravely, but was killed.” But Leisel is a regular German girl, with blonde hair and blue eyes, with nothing that directly sets her apart as a Nazi target.
But just because she’s not a target of the Nazis doesn’t mean that her life is perfect, or even normal. But still, growing up during World War Two, especially under the watchful eye of Adolf Hitler, was never easy. And Leisel’s life has its own share of troubles aside from the war. In the very beginning of the book, she witnesses the death of her younger brother, Werner Memminger.
This is of course a horrific thing for a young girl to watch, but what comes after is just as heartbreaking. Leisel’s mother abandons her, and allows her to be adopted by another German family. Leisel is sent to the Hubbermans, who live on Himmel Street. They are to be her new family, but even from the beginning, she keeps an important secret.
She is a book thief. She stole a book right after her brother’s funeral. It is called A Gravedigger’s Handbook.
Thus starts Leisel’s book-thieving journey, and with it the journey of a little girl, growing into a young woman, surrounded by Adolf Hitler’s men. Her and Herr Hubberman, who she calls Papa, are very close, and she loves him dearly. Rosa Hubberman, who she calls Mama, often calls her pig or other language, but she loves Liesel, she just has a funny way of showing it.
Then, there’s Leisel’s best friend, Rudy. Rudy wants to be an Olympic athlete, like Jesse Owens, but he’ll settle for a book-thievery or two with Leisel.
The Book Thief is told from the perspective of Death. But it is as if Death is like a Greek god, a sentient being, not just a thing that happens. And most people think the book will be horribly violent, and Death will gloat over the bodies of the deceased. War and death always go hand in hand, don’t they? But Death is exhausted by the war. He’s angry at the people fighting for causing him so much work. He does not rejoice when someone dies. He is not evil.
This book's unique perspective gives it a whole new feel that I have never found in any other book. It is different and exciting. And Markus Zusak writes in a way that keeps you hooked from the first word to the last.
Zusak is also a master at interesting characters. From the main character, Leisel, to Rudy to Rosa Hubberman to Max, Liesel's other best friend, each character has complex personalities and layers, and the combination of the select characters is part of what makes the book so good.
There are some parts of the book that get a bit dark, considering the time period. But overall, the good parts definitely outweighed the bad, and made The Book Thief a unique and memorable read.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!