Leisel is a girl, Max is a jew, and Death in 1939 Germany is going to be very, very busy.
Leisel and her brother are bound for a new foster family in Molching, Germany. Her brother never makes it.
The Book Thief is brilliant. Let’s make that clear from the outset. It is one of those books that picks up everything you think about the world, shakes it around like a snow globe, and puts it down again and waits expectantly for all the pieces to fall back together. It was funny, charming, and utterly heart wrenching all at the same time.
Regular listeners will remember how I try not to spoil any of the books I love for you but this blog will have a couple of spoilers in it. Be warned. Nothing hugely out of the park, just the obvious spoilers that you’d probably see coming anyway.
The book deals with one of the most difficult subjects in human history; the persecution of the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, but The Book Thief isn’t what we’ve come to expect from such stories. Leisel, the central character, isn’t Jewish, nor are her foster parents, but her Papa is sworn to protect one man from the horrors that await him. The connection between the two is also really clever and eye opening and a comment on the stupidity of the Nazi regime.
During the journey of Leisel’s life we watch her grow up, fall in love, find a place in the world, and have it all shattered. And the whole story is narrated from the point of view of Death, the one true constant in all our lives.
What this book does so well is that it makes us care for the characters. We love Leisel, we take strength from Papa, we laugh at Mama and feel her love in her own special way. We also learn to trust Rudy, and we watch happily as Leisel falls in love with him. Apart from the Nazis, we come to love, admire, cherish, every character but then the author does the unexpected and destroys them all. We live amongst them in fear, we feel their pain and suffering, we don’t want to see them die. The part that shook me the most, the part that made me audibly gasp on my train to work was that these people, these innocent civilians, were devastated by us. The allies. We’re fortunate that books like this exist because of the sacrifice made by the allied victors, but Papa was a good man, did he deserve to have his world and his family destroyed just because he lived in a country ruled by a tyrant?
The Book Thief has moments of pure tenderness between human beings, regardless of gender, religion, age, social class; maybe we could all learn a lesson from it.
The details and descriptions are poetic and totally bring to life wartime Molching and the lives of its inhabitants. The characters are all unique and wonderful. Even Death is a good guy really. Every page leaves you wanting more and at no point did I find myself bored and trying to rush through any sections of it.
Everyone go out and buy this book, or steal it. It’s brilliant, it will make you think, laugh, and cry in equal measure. Then watch the film, because that’s pretty good too.
* * * * * – 5 out of 5! Truly amazing.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is out now in paperback, published by BLACK SWAN.