The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Random House
Date of Publication: September 11, 2007
Pages: 235 (Nook Edition)
I resisted reading this book because I thought that there couldn't be any World War II/Nazi Germany/Holocaust stories which haven't been told. I was very wrong. The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a pre-teen living with foster parents in Nazi Germany. The effect that this war has on this young lady, her foster family and her neighbors is excruciating. Portraying Germans as victims is not common but certainly here the characters are indeed sucked into a vortex which they don't understand and aren't complicit with. Acts of defiance occur despite the risk of dire consequence. They are swallowed by the machine of war.
The book is told by an omniscient narrator who is Death himself. This allows the reader to be present on battlefields, in concentration camps and in Liesel Meminger's town of Molching which is caught in the cross-fire of a hellish war. The characters are extremely strong, most notably Liesel and her foster father Hans Hubermann. The pair work together to educate Liesel and she grows in appreciation of the power of the written as well as the spoken word. Liesel's books, purloined from multiple sources, are her only solace. Words and books take on even more significance when the Hubermanns elect to hide Max Vandenburg, a Jew, in their basement. Words and books become the bond of friendship for Liesel and Max. Words eventually even become sources of solace as Liesel reads to her neighbors in bomb shelters during air raids.
This is a powerful book which deserves its accolades and status as a long-running New York Times bestseller. It is a potent statement regarding the effects of war on average citizens, particularly children. I am very glad that I read it and look forward to seeing the recent movie adaptation.