The Book Thief- Markus Zusak
We've had the film adaptation of The Book Thief downloaded for a while and, although I really wanted to watch it, I hate to see an adaptation before reading the original book first. Eventually I got round to buying a copy and it's one of the most amazing, emotional, poignant books I have ever read.
One of the big draws for me is that the story is narrated by Death. I love the macabre and creepy so this seemed right up my street. As a narrator, Death is surprisingly warm. He is tired of his job, he pities the living but knows he cannot stop. Although he tries to switch off from human emotions, there are certain people with whom he feels particularly attached. One such person is little Liesel Meminger, a poor 10 year old German girl who is fostered by a couple in the outskirts of Munich. After her younger brother dies on the journey to her new home, Liesel spots a book that has been dropped by one of the gravediggers. Although she can't read, she picks it up and, when she later shows it to her foster father, he teaches her to read. As Liesel learns to read and write, she is enamoured by the power of words, and begins to steal a book whenever she has the opportunity.
Despite the title, The Book Thief is less about a girl stealing books, and more about a girl growing up in a dictatorship that she doesn't understand. She makes friends with a local boy, Rudy, and both are bored by the dull routine of life in the Hitler Youth. When a young Jewish man turns up at the door, her father allows him to live hidden in their basement, which sparks another deep friendship for Liesel.
Seeing World War II through a child's eyes has often been explored, for example in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne and Judith Kerr's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit but it's still a concept I find interesting. Liesel's confusion is mixed with feelings of fear and apathy as she risks punishment to help others. She is not selfless, however, as no child is, and she does sometimes act to please herself at the expense of others. This imperfection is what makes her such a believable, relatable character.
Since the novel is set in German wartime, there is an impending sense of doom that increases as the pages turn. Death gives hints as to the ending, but does not shy away from the brutality of war. However, nothing prepared me for the way the novel ends. I can't remember ever having my heart shattered by a book in the way this one did.
Everybody should read The Book Thief. It is a beautifully written, poetic novel that refuses to glamourise or gloss over the horrors of war. Without doubt, it is one of the best books I have ever read.
Buy The Book Thief here
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