The Book Thief is the story of Liesel, a German girl who is given up for adoption by her mother, who is a Communist and is perhaps being taken away by the Nazis. The story takes place in the lead-up to and during World War II. On the train with her mother and younger brother, Liesel’s brother suddenly dies. No explanation is given, other than harsh living conditions and not enough food. He is quickly buried, and as they family walks away from the grave, Liesel picks up a book dropped by the grave keeper. Rather than calling out and giving it back to him, she hides it in her jacket. This book is important to her, it connects her to her brother, though she cannot read.
She comes to a small village, to be raised by Hans and Rosa, an unlikely couple. Hans is a sign painter who can no longer support the family. He is a gentle and loving soul, very generous with his smile and his heart. Rosa is an angry woman, quick to scold and criticize, who brings in wash from the Mayor’s wife to make money.
Hans teaches Liesel to read, and she is soon looking for other books that she might read. She discovers two sources…book burnings, where if you wait around until everyone else has gone home, you might find a book that is only singed, and the Mayor’s library, which his wife keeps in pristine shape after the death of her son, whose library it really was.
The film shows what life may have been like in a small German village during World War II, when you were perhaps not sympathetic to the Nazi cause, but it was a very dangerous time in which to let these sympathies be known. When the family takes in a young Jewish man and hides him in their basement, their fear in being caught, as well as his fear that his being there might bring ruin down upon them all, is so very real. Rosa’s panic, and her thought of turning him in, lasts only a moment, and as the danger is so real, she should be forgiven for a very natural instinct.
The Book Thief was engrossing…at one point in the film I looked around at the audience, and everyone was absolutely still, focused and watching, waiting to see what would happen next. No texting, no whispering, no rattling candy boxes, none of it. The film has been getting mixed reviews, but I didn’t feel mixed about it at all. I enjoyed it thoroughly.