I read a print copy of The Book Thief a while ago. Quite a heavy book with illustrations and poems, I almost did not read it. Almost! The narrator of the book is Death, and the beginning seemed very morbid to me. The thought of Death sucking my soul like a Dementor, holding me in his arms and taking me away, leaving my mortal body writhing behind gave me the shivers. ‘What kind of a book is this anyway’, I thought.
I am nothing if not persistent. And my persistence often pays off when it comes to being patient with the beginning of a book. I am certainly glad I egged myself to read on, and discover this story of a girl, some words, an accordion player, Nazis and petty theft. The theft of some words in the form of books!
Death, the narrator tells us about the different colors in a day or an hour. And the three times he encountered the book thief. It’s a story you will never forget. Liesel Meminger is a little girl on her way to her foster family. Her brother dies on the way, and Liesel is alone when she meets her foster parents at the house on Himmel Street. The Hubermanns welcome Liesel and try to make her feel at home. Hans ekes out a meager living as a painter and accordion player. Liesel gradually settles in and starts calling them Mama and Papa.
Liesel has a secret. A much thumbed copy of The Grave Digger’s Handbook. And the secret is that it did not always belong to her. Liesel learns to read and has no idea how much comfort this is going to bring to her family and friends.
As war rages, the family hides a Jew in their basement. There are bombings and air raids when the neighbors gather in the Hubermanns’ basement. Liesel reads to them from her meager collection. She has an unlikely friend in the form of the mayor’s wife who lets Liesel borrow books from her library. Liesel gradually grows older as war rages around her.
The 1930s were violent and many people across the world have painful memories of the time. Many books have been written with World War II as the backdrop. And many have been written about the Nazi atrocities and persecution of the Jews. The Book Thief has all these elements but the central theme here is Liesel and her love of books. When you don’t have many options, you struggle to find a lifeline that will pull you through. Books serve this purpose for Liesel Meminger and Markus Zusak has written a riveting novel based on his family’s experiences.
Whether you like it or not, you will definitely not be able to ignore The Book Thief. This is a book which one must read and revisit several times before forming a fixed opinion about it. Isn’t it time you got started?
The Book Thief is now playing in theaters too, but I say read the book first.