The Book Thief is a tale of World War II told from a different point of view than any other book I’ve read on the subject…and at the same time, it’s just like the other World War II books I’ve read.
I’ve read the Diary of Anne Frank, Number the Stars, The Snow Goose, and at least several others. I’ve seen many WWII movies, including The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan. All of these books and films are told from the point of view of the allies, or that of people fleeing the tyranny and death camps of the Nazis. The Book Thief is the story of a German family within Nazi Germany. That was quite different and novel to me, to see a glimpse into a German town, a German village, a German mindset during this most horrific time. (Writing this, it occurs to me that Schindler’s List was told from a German perspective…I had forgotten that.)
What The Book Thief has in common with the others is that it is a story of bravery, courage, and heroism. It’s the story of Liesel, a young girl who is given into a foster family by her mother, who can no longer be assured of enough food for her children. Liesel is haunted by the death of her young brother, and the lack of having a father. She is illiterate, and yet, when she comes across an unusual book at her brother’s burial, she cannot resist the temptation to pocket the volume.
Liesel comes to live with a couple in a small village, whose children are grown and independent. The father is an accordionist who can no longer scrape together much of a living himself, and a harsh woman prone to name-calling and swearing. The father, Hans, owes a debt to a friend from WWI, who saved his life. He is called upon to repay that debt when the friend’s son comes to hide in their basement. The friend is a Jew, and the son is in hiding.
The narrator of the story is Death, who, contrary to popular belief, does not really enjoy his job. He aches for the souls that he removes from Earth, aches for their families left behind, longs to free them from their pain and suffering. He calls this a small story, and in many ways it is…it is the small story of a small family, doing their best to survive in a horrific time, trying to stay beneath the radar of the Nazi party, trying to feed themselves and the Jew in their basement, who is himself wracked with guilt over the risk that this family is taking in order that he might survive.
Along the way, we meet Liesel’s best friend, the mayor’s wife, neighbors with kind hearts, and neighbors without kind hearts. All of these characters come together to paint a story of hope, of survival, and of the bravery and horrors of war.
Truly one of the most touching, best books I have read in quite awhile. It’s listed as Young Adult, though please don’t be scared away by that listing. It’s a great book for any age.