Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can’t resist—books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever they are to be found.
With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
Markus Zusak has created an unforgettable novel about the ability of books to feed the soul.
I’m no particular World War II buff, but found The Book Thief to be exceptional and fascinating. The endearing, deftly drawn characters themselves are what I loved the most. The tale’s not as glum and dire as one might expect: there are many funny bits, heart-warming bits, and mischievous children. There are also some incredibly sad bits, which oughtn’t be surprising given the subject matter.
The story is uniquely told by Death, who is a droll storyteller. He’s weary, and he gets no particular relish from his job. To him, war is nothing to revel in—it’s just more work heaped upon him. The narrator of the audiobook, Allan Corduner, renders him excellently and thoroughly Britishly.
There’s not really a linear plot, just a variety of incidents occurring to the families living in one little neighborhood over a period of several years. In fact, Death sometimes jumps ahead in time to fill one in on a character’s eventual fate, which then made for bittersweet reading when one returns to the narrative in which they are so vibrantly alive.
My favorites of the wonderful, memorable characters, in ascending order of preference: Liesel’s foster mother, Rosa, yells a lot but has a big heart. The scenes where the fierce love she has for Liesel is most obvious are very moving. Liesel’s best friend, Rudy, is a brave, energetic boy (always pestering her for a kiss) who’s perpetually hungry. But absolutely stealing the show is her new “papa,” Hans Huberman. I absolutely adore Hans, as he’s one of those sweet, patient dads who knows the right things to say and is absolutely a good man through and through.
The Book Thief is technically a young adult book, but doesn’t really feel like one. It could just as easily have been marketed as adult fiction. There are many things to recommend it (and I do, highly) but the vivid characters alone are enough.