Don’t judge a book by its cover. But what about it’s title? It has happened often to me to pick up a novel just because of its interesting heading. That’s how I came across the beautiful and emotionally deep story between the pages of ‘The Book Thief’. The moment I laid eyes on the cover, I already knew I’d devour it in the next few days. For Markus Zusak has chosen his words carefully and if his desired effect was to bring immediate attention to his book, well then – bull’s-eye!
Here’s a little fact – you will die. The narrator to this incredible story is no other than death itself. The plot is developed in Germany during the dark days of the Third Reich, which is where we find our protagonist – the 9-year-old Liesel Meminger, the book thief. The novel describes her story and the story of all the people who live on her street when the bombs start falling down. This novel is, among other things, about a girl, a number of words, an accordion player, a few fanatic Germans, a Jewish fist fighter and a lot of thefts. And another important note – Death will visit Liesel three times.
Germany during the Third Reich is a dismal place to be. The atmosphere is filled with angst and anxiety. Families are torn apart, which is why Liesel finds herself in the foster care of Rosa and Hans Hubermann. She has just witnessed the death of her own brother and the departure of her beloved mother who she’ll probably never see again. In times like these similar occurrences are not rare. War brings nothing but horror, tears and suffering. Battles are raging and it seems they are just on the brink of collapsing inside the safe haven of home. Work and food are harder and harder to come by. And in this total chaos of destruction and devastation, Liesel is slowly learning how to read and how to fight her inner demons.
It is hard to believe that a young girl can adjust in such a dismal time. But she is capable of finding happiness and comfort in Hans’ tranquil voice and in stealing books from the enormous library owned by the mayor. Not only that, she befriends the neighbor’s boy Rudi and the two become inseparable. They share adventures and get into trouble together. But most importantly they share their hunger, hopes and dreams.
In a world whose background is filled only with gray and black, Liesel is a bright spot that radiates sunshine. Colors have a quite important part in the book. Death always describes the sky when someone exhales his last breath. The sky is never the same. It changes and every moment it is painted with a different shade which often is a mirror image of the emotions that are transmitted below. The narrator highlights the importance of surroundings and atmosphere.
And the atmosphere is not very calm. Joining the Nazi party becomes inevitable and Hans Hubermann, despite his disliking of the radical ideas of the political force, has no other choice but to become a member. However it is his house where Max, who is a Jew and persecuted by the law, finds a home. Weary of his journey and of his life as a fugitive, the young man is filled with negative emotions and is incapable of sleeping. It is Liesel who helps Max get through the dark tunnel and shows him the light. To thank her, he writes a short illustrated story called “The Standover Man” for Liesel and gives it to her as a birthday gift. The title refers to the people in one’s life who will stay comfortingly at one’s bedside in times of need, just as Liesel did for Max and as Hans had done for Liesel.
Mark Zusak tells us that humans are not only interesting and challenging but also very important. Through the eyes of Death we see that compassion will save the world no matter how many lives and how many souls have been burned. If you are looking for a profoundly moving novel that will make you fall in love with characters whose fate will keep you on edge, ‘The Book Thief’ is the thing to read.