Having heard of The Book Thief a few years ago, I finally gave in to temptation and purchased it from Amazon. Now they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but the dark and sinister picture of the grim reaper dancing with a small girl seduced me into wanting to unveil the story.
The location is set in Germany in the late 1930’s during Adolf Hitler’s reign and the outbreak of World War Two. The novel starts off with a unique twist as the grim reaper, otherwise known as ‘death’, narrates it. At first you may think that this is going to be a depressing read but surprisingly deaths presence throughout the book creates an unexpected comfort that can make particular horrific events bearable.
The story follows Liesel Meminger, a nine-year old girl who is fostered by a German accordion player, Hans Hubermann and his wife Rosa, to escape from her families Communist past. However, not only is Hans expected to protect Liesel but he’s also hiding a Jew named Max Vandenburg in his basement from the Gestapo.
Most of the story is set in the small fictional town of Molching, just a stones throw away from the notorious concentration camp Dachau. Near the end of the book Liesel witnesses a life changing moment when she comes across a line of Dachau inmates being marched along in shackles by a Nazi officer. Her foster father Hans sees one of the prisoners fall to his feet in hunger and offers him a piece of bread, but this results in a disastrous consequence as the officer notices him helping the old man and proceeds to whip the prisoner in frustration. These couple of terrifying seconds make Liesel realise the true horrors of the holocaust. What makes this story so special is that it looks at the holocaust through the eyes of an innocent child which creates a light-hearted outlook on life during WW2.
You may be wandering how The Book Thief got its name and how it can relate to the story. Well, Liesel comes across various books and in some cases even steals them to escape from the realities of everyday life. She is under-educated for her age but is taught to read by Hans, which creates a heart-warming relationship between the two.
What also makes this book unusual compared to many other novels, and movies based on the holocaust, is that it reminds us that ‘good’ Germans did exist during this era. In many films the entire German population is depicted as cold hearted and stern but Markus Zusak reminds us that the German nation also feared the Nazi regime.
This is a beautifully written and thought-provoking novel that will give you a whole new outlook on the fearful thought of death. It really is impossible to put down. You may also want to watch out for The Book Thief coming to the big screen in January next year, with Brian Percival set to direct and Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush starring in it.