The Book Thief

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

Markus Zusak

I’ve actually read The Book Thief at least twice before, but I’m pretty sure I read it like I read most books when I was younger: much too fast, and really only for the plot, without appreciating anything else. So when it appeared on the Book Smugglers’ January Readalong it seemed like a good idea to re-read it. Also, fortuitously, it appears there’s a film out soon, so a good time for a re-read, too.

The Book Thief follows ten-year-old Liesel Meminger as she is adopted by the Hubermann family in a small town near Munich in 1939. (Yes, it’s a war story. Sort of.) Liesel is a girl who steals books: from graveyards, from bonfires, from private libraries. The Book Thief, narrated by Death, is the story of how those books, as well as others, shape her life in Nazi Germany.

Did I mention it’s narrated by Death?

But Death is almost a sad character in this novel. He does not relish his job. He is compassionate, and sympathetic, and…goddammit, just sad. The entire book is a weepfest. The characters are sad, mainly because they feel entirely real and they deserve better than Nazi Germany. Rudy Steiner, Hans Hubermann, Max, Liesel herself – just ALL THE CHARACTERS are ones that quite easily join the ranks of my Favourites Ever. The Dramatic Irony is sad, for several reasons, one of them the fact that Death tells the end of their stories early on. I can’t remember the last time I cried this much for a book. (This is strange, because I cry in films all the time.)

It’s also rather nice to read a WWII book told from the German side as opposed to the Allied side. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember another book I’ve read that does the same thing (apart from The Diary of Anne Frank, of course), and it’s good to see a story of people “on the wrong side” doing their best to Do the Right Thing in a world full of wrong choices.

The Book Thief is a good book. It’s an important book, and a rewarding one, and one I think I’ll probably be re-reading at least once more. Hopefully the film won’t ruin it.

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