Book Review: The Book Thief

“Words are life, Liesel..”

It’s not about a book, it’s not about a thief.

It’s about a girl, who is watching her brother, lying dead on a railway track. Soldiers, who were discussing what to do with the body. She was shocked, she wasn’t able to cry. Her mother was just simply staring at the body. They decided to bury him in the nearest graveyard. Two men were waiting for them, digging a grave for her brother. One of the gravediggers dropped a book, and it caught her eyes. She picked it up, kept it inside her pocket, And that’s how Liesel came across her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook.

The Book Thief is a story set in the background of Germany in the year 1939-1943. Death narrates the book that has been written by Liesel about those years. Liesel, an orphan, never knew her father and her mother due to unfortunate circumstances, puts up Liesel and her brother for foster care at Molching. During their journey, Liesel’s brother dies and that’s when she comes across her first book.

Her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann are poor Germans were given a small allowance to take her in. Hans is a painter and accordion player by profession, and he is the one who pushes Liesel to learn how to read and write. Rosa, on the other hand, is a dirty mouth and washes laundry for rich people in Molching. During her stay at Molching, Liesel becomes best friends with Rudy, a boy with lemon colored hair who idolises Black Olympic Champion sprinter Jesse Owens.

Their fate changes when a Jew turns up at their house to stay. Max, is the son of a friend of Hans, who served with him the first world war. A friend who taught Hans accordion and Hans promised to his wife that he will keep Max safe when the time comes. Hans Hubermann is a German, but he doesn’t hate Jews. He knows that he will risk his family safety if he lets him stay, but then humanity overcomes patriotism. Max takes shelter at Hubermann’s residence, in their basement. Liesel and Max become good friends. They come to realise they have a lot of things in common, their fears, their desires and dreams.

When you read the book you realise that there are two stories in the same book, One story is of Death and the Other story is of Liesel. But the stories overlap each other and transform it into a beautiful account of friendship and family. A very different type of writing skill has been used by the author, Markus Zusak. Before any chapter, deaths account has been given in a poetic way, how he gets attracted towards children and how intriguing human nature is to him. After that, the story gets carried forward to Liesel, wherein she speaks about her daily experiences at the Molching street. Here are a few instances from the book,

“After ten minutes or so, what was most prominent in the cellar was a kind of non-movement. Their bodies were welded together and only their feet changed position or pressure. The stillness was shackled to their faces. They watched each other and waited.” (p.402)

“People and Jews and clouds all stopped. They watched. As he stood, Max looked first at the girl and then stared directly into the sky who was wide and blue and magnificent. There were heavy beams – planks of the sun – falling randomly, wonderfully, onto the road. Clouds arched their backs to look behind as they started again to move on. “It’s such a beautiful day,” he said, and his voice was in many pieces. A great day to die. A great day to die, like this.” (pp.543-4)

The way in which the book has been written can be compared to a musical too. Death’s narration is exemplary in the book. One may find the book a little morbid in the first few pages, but then it catches up quickly to the reader’s mind. And this book will make you cry.

And for my movie duds, here’s a trailer for the movie released in 2013, starring Sophie Nélisse as Liesel.

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