“When death tells a story, you really have to listen” That’s the line on the cover of the book, and, in my opinion, sums up the entire book. There is no way you can put “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak down once you have picked it up.
There are hundreds of books about the horrors of the holocaust and the world war two time in both the fiction and non-fiction genre, and I have read a few of them. But, there is something about this one which makes it stand out, not just for the way it is narrated but the story it tells.
The story is about a little girl, Liesel who arrives at the Hubermann’s who are going to foster her. She has just lost her brother and is separated from her mother and is obviously both frustrated and distraught. The story takes us through Liesel’s life as she gets to know her new family, makes new friends, learns the meaning of love and obviously learns to read.
The story is obviously set in the backdrop of Nazi Germany in the poor and cold neighborhood of the fictional town of Molching, Germany. In her new home, under the tutelage of her Papa Liesel begins to learn to read and goes on to discover the power of words. Her tryst with books start with thievery, even before she can read words, but in the basement of her house she not only reads the book she stole but writes her own. Along the journey, Liesel gains two new parents, Rosa and Hans, an unusual friend in Max Vandenburg and finds strong friendship as well as love with Rudy Steiner.
The book explores several themes in itself, and I have found a different meaning to the same pages every time I flip through them. In the center though is the theme of mortality. Well, ‘Death’ is ultimately the one narrating the story, and it is set in the world war two setting, so it reiterates that death is inevitable. But, the way Zusak uses Death to narrate the story, makes even death have humanity. There is a line in the book, ‘…even Death has a heart.’ Death laments when a life is cut short when someone who does not deserve to die young has to be taken away and carries the burden of all the deaths.
The second theme that the story deals with is language and words. Reading writing and language is what gives Liesel the freedom, even when she is trapped inside the four walls of her basement. She discovers a different world in the words she reads and writes, and ultimately she receives a gift of life in those words as well.
The last theme explored is of relationships. Through the story, Liesel discovers what family, friendships and love means. She discovers what parents are and she forms a strong and respected bond with her papa, Hans and even Rosa. She discovers what loyalty and trust are through the friendship with Max and with Rudy, she experiences what the true meaning of friendship and love is. Death puts their relationship into words most beautifully,“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.” And I would not be able to find words to define it better.
“The Book Thief” compels even non-enthusiastic readers to stop and continue reading, choke a little on your emotion and discreetly wipe away your tear, behind your coffee mug!
*The article was originally published in the first edition (May 2018) of With The Coffee (Click here to download your free copy of the magazine).Would love to connect with you on social media!