My friend Nicole, a fellow bibliophile, recommended this book to me. After reading it, I’m thinking I should probably get some more recommendations from her, because this book was wonderful.
The Book Thief, set in Nazi Germany, is the story of Liesel Meminger, who steals her first book, The Grave Digger’s Handbook, on the day of her six-year-old brother’s funeral. Soon after, she is brought to a foster home, where her foster father teaches her to read from the stolen tome. Liesel is simultaneously enthralled and frustrated by words on her journey to literacy—she recognizes their power and yearns to be able to harness it. Her love affair with books and words soon leads her to steal books wherever they may be found. Throughout the five years she spends on Himmel Street, from age nine to fourteen, she steals books from wherever they can be found, from Nazi book burnings to the mayor’s library. But as World War II progresses, words become even more meaningful to Liesel: they keep her alive.
Let me just start off by saying that the above summary was really hard to write because there was so much I wanted to put in. Anything I write myself can never do this book justice, but I will do my best to communicate its beauty.
First of all, the book is narrated by Death, personified. So right away, that makes it stand out. Death is an incredibly eloquent narrator, often confounding the senses with sentences like, “There is air like plastic, a horizon like setting glue.” The beauty of it, though, was the fact that on some level, these vivid descriptions weren’t confounding at all. I can feel that plastic-like air, and I can see that gluey horizon. There are lots of authors who can make you see what they see and feel what they feel, all in their different ways…but none quite like this.
The story itself is humble, hilarious, and heart-wrenching. Liesel starts out as a nine-year-old illiterate foster child with a dead brother, and slowly blossoms into a lover of books, of words, with a strong love for her foster parents, for her best friend Rudy, and for Max, the Jewish man they hide in their basement. Liesel’s coming-of-age culminates with her writing her own story—and with the bombing of Molching, her small town.
Overall, I would absolutely read this again, and thanks to Nicole for recommending it!