Poignant, gripping, compelling, lyrical and tragic – The Book Thief is all this and more. Death narrates this tale of a young girl, a stealer of books named Liesel, who is growing up in a small town outside of Munich during Hitler’s reign of terror. Markus Zusak – an award winning author of children’s literature – pens an original novel which explores (among other things) the tragedy of war, love and hate, the power of words, and that tenuous space which separates life from death. The characters who people this amazing book come alive on the page:
Rudy Steiner – Liesel’s best friend and a boy whose dreams include being an athlete as great as Jesse Owens.
“Papa” aka Hans Hubermann – Liesel’s foster father, an accordion player who honors a long forgotten promise and whose kind spirit repeatedly brought tears to my eyes.
When he turned the light on in the small, callous washroom that night, Liesel observed the strangeness of her foster father’s eyes. They were made of kindness, and silver. Like soft silver, melting. Liesel, upon seeing those eyes, understood that Hans Hubermann was worth a lot.
“Mama” aka Rosa Hubermann – Liesel’s foster mother, a woman who loves as fiercely as she curses.
Max Vandenberg – The “Jew in the basement” who discovers the friendship of a girl and the healing power of words.
Ilsa Hermann – The mayor’s wife who has lost and grieved and punished herself, and yet makes room in her heart for a young girl with a hunger for words.
And finally, Liesel herself – a girl whose courage and wonderful spirit of life shines through on every page.
At one point, Liesel writes:
I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. -from The Book Thief, page 523
Markus Zusak makes the words right. His novel will resonate with book lovers. It is a story larger than life; one that touches the reader’s heart and never lets go. Death’s voice, at once both playful and profound, delivers the ending of this novel with a flourish that will break your heart.
There were many favorite passages from this book. Below are just a few.
About the colors or life (as narrated by Death):
People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them. -page 4-
About Trust and Love (as narrated by Death):
***A Definition Not Found In the Dictionary*** Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children. -page 37-
About the horrors of war:
It was a place nobody wanted to stay and look at, but almost everyone did. Shaped like a long, broken arm, the road contained several houses with lacerated windows and bruised walls. The Star of David was painted on their doors. Those houses were almost like lepers. At the very least, they were infected sores on the injured German terrain. – page 51-
A horizon of Nazi flags and uniforms rose upward, crippling her view every time she attempted to see over a smaller child’s head. It was pointless. The crowd was itself. There was no swaying it, squeezing through or reasoning with it. You breathed with it and you sang its songs. You waited for its fire. – page 110-
(As narrated by Death) They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more. – page 309-
“‘My heart is so tired,'” the girl had said. She was sitting in a chapel, writing in her diary. No, thought Liesel as she walked. It’s my heart that is tired. A thirteen-year-old heart shouldn’t feel like this.
(As narrated by Death) I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They’re running at me. – page 175-
About the power of words:
After a miscarriaged pause, the mayor’s wife edged forward and picked up the book. She was battered and beaten up, and not from smiling this time. Liesel could see it on her face. Blood leaked from her nose and licked at her lips. Her eyes had been blackened. Cuts had opened up and series of wounds were rising to the surface of her skin. All from the words. From Liesel’s words. -page 263-