TITLE: THE BOOK THIEF
AUTHOR: MARKUS ZUSAK
Details: Re-read for Dialogues Through Literature
Oh boy, what a book. What a beautiful and heart-breaking book.
“It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors - an expert at being left behind.
It’s just a small story really, about, amongst other things:
- a girl
- some words
- an accordionist
- some fanatical Germans
- a Jewish fist-fighter
- and quite a lot of thievery.”
This is Liesel Meminger’s the story. In 1939 Liesel is 9 years old when she travels with her mother and brother on a train towards Molching, a town beyond the outskirts of Munich. During the journey Liesel’s young brother dies and it is just after his funeral that Liesel finds and steals her first book; The Gravedigger’s Handbook. A book that would come to mean the last time Liesel saw both her brother and her mother.
Because Liesel’s parents are deemed to be unsuitable citizens in a Germany where who and what people should be is strictly controlled, the girl is placed with foster parents, the Hubermann’s. Hans Hubermann is a kind and patient man who manages to get Liesel out of her shell and teaches her to read during midnight sessions when nightmares keep the girl awake. Rosa Hubermann is a loud woman with a foul mouth and a heart of gold. It takes a bit of time, but Hans and Rosa become Papa and Mama.
Liesel’s best friend on Himmel Street is Rudy Steiner a boy with yellow hair and a talent for getting into trouble. A boy who will assist Liesel on some of her later quests to steel books. The boy Liesel should have kissed while she had a chance, but how could she have known what was to come.
When Max, a Jewish fist-fighter, shows up on the Hubermann’s doorstep the family doesn’t hesitate but take him in and hide him for as long as they can and during that time, Max become Liesel’s friend.
In a notebook she receives as a gift from the woman she has stolen most of her books from Liesel records all that has happened in the years between her arrival on Himmel Street and the devastating end of her world. As the war continues and the tide turns against the Germans, tragedy is only a short time away. When Liesel loses the notebook containing her story it is Death who will pick it up and carry it away. And it is Death who will share her story with the world.
This is a wonderful book on so many levels. First and foremost because it is a beautifully told story. None of the characters in this book are just good and even the ones like Hans Hubermann who appear to be goodness personified can’t help making dangerous mistakes. However, despite their faults, the reader will end up loving almost every single character in the book, wanting the best for them. It is impossible not to read the last pages of this story with tears in your eyes for these people who were victims as much as the people in the rest of Europe were. It is hard not to agree with Death though when he says about the people living on Himmel Street hiding in basements: “The Germans in the basements were pitiable, surely, but at least they had a chance. That basement was not a washroom. They were not sent there for a shower. For those people, life was still achievable.”
Another reason this book has a special place in my heart is because it shows so clearly that while a country as a whole may be guilty of despicable acts, there will always be individuals who are good in the middle of evil. Things are never as black versus white as they appear to be on the surface, and that is a message that can’t be reinforced often enough.
Another quote I love: Not leaving: An act of trust and love, often deciphered by children. How beautiful is that?
This is the third time I’ve read this book (previous reviews can be found here and here) and I doubt very much that this will be the last time. And that in itself goes to show how special this book is. About 20 years ago I vowed that I would stop reading books about World War II. Growing up in Holland I’d grown up on books about that period and I truly felt I’d read everything I wanted or needed to read about those years. This book showed me how wrong you can be in assumptions like that; it proved to me that there is always a side to the story you haven’t considered yet and that it pays to be on the look-out for those other perspectives.
And just one more quote from our narrator, Death: “…that I’m constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it.”