At only nine years old, Liesel Meminger witnesses the death of her brother and is sent away by her mother to live with another family. Liesel doesn’t really understand what’s going on or why she has to leave her mother. Hitler’s domination of Germany increases as Liesel grows up, comforted by her adoptive father and loved but scolded in ways by her adopted mother. Narrated by Death himself, a character with a completely different and novel perspective, Liesel’s story is a powerful one about love, war, and childhood.
I don’t give many books a five star rating on LibraryThing (I don’t rate books at all here on the blog, but I still do there). It’s incredibly rare that I find a book which works for me on all levels – that touches me, that makes me think, that gives me a new perspective on life. The Book Thief is one such book, and somehow I waited nearly two full years to actually open it for the first time. What a mistake – I hope it’s one you won’t make, if you do have this one waiting on your TBR shelf.
It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely what makes this book so special. There are vast numbers of books written in or about World War II that are very good; there is plenty of fiction in particular and it’s a number that seems to rise regularly. It’s one of those books that makes things you’ve always known somehow become real, even through fiction. Liesel’s feelings towards Max, the Jew that her family hides in their basement, do precisely this. Their relationship, so tenuous to start, expressed through books and words, becomes magical and real as the novel progresses.
The entire book revolves around the power of words. Liesel is the titular book thief; she adores books, but they’re hard to come by for a poor family in Nazi Germany. Censorship means millions of books are burned or changed, so Liesel’s treasures become fewer and far between. Simultaneously, it is words that allow Hitler and his party to take power, to persuade people that those who believe in other religions are not people, to cause the deaths of millions around the globe. This power of words is demonstrated in so many ways throughout the book; as a reader and a writer, I found so much to connect with and a vast amount of truth in this particular theme.
The book also demonstrates the merciless nature of war. It’s a hard thing to take, especially when you become so very attached to certain characters, but it makes me think of real life as well. More than anything, strangely, this part of the book reminded me of The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, because it is another that demonstrates how war can take away people we desperately love. Like many of my generation, I’ve never had anyone I loved taken from me due to a war, despite the fact that we are fighting one and I know a number of soldiers, and I think this faint shadow of that grief is entirely necessary to remind all of us who are not involved ourselves how evil a thing these wars actually are.
I would highly recommend The Book Thief to almost anyone at all; it’s a book that is beautifully written with a number of powerful themes, yet still surprisingly different from many of the books about World War II out there. If you already own it, don’t let it sit on your shelf any longer.
I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book as a gift.