The Book Thief is an incredible read
Reviewed by Barb Biggs, BCPL branch manager
I think sometimes people throw words around carelessly. The pop star of the moment is an “icon” or some person “hates” this or that silly television show or brand of clothing. The book that I am going tell you about is about the power of words; how words can incite and how words can also save.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is set in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It’s a time that many of us alive today are only familiar with from history texts and movies. Just outside of Munich, on a street named Himmel (German for Heaven, which does not at all describe Himmel Street), a 10-year-old girl is delivered to Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Her mother has disappeared, and her brother died en route to Himmel Street. Her name is Liesel Meminger, and she is a book thief. Her first stolen book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, came into her possession after her brother was buried. She found it in the snow, a small black object, and even though she couldn’t read, it became her most important possession.
Liesel has a hard time adjusting to life on Himmel Street. Hans is kind, Rosa is overbearing, and she doesn’t know where her mother is or why she gave her away. She is haunted by her younger brother, Werner. To make things harder, she is put into the youngest class in the school. She can’t read or write and is behind in every subject. In the basement each night, Hans teaches Leisel to read.
I should probably mention that this book is narrated by Death. Yes, Death. But, he tells us, he doesn’t carry a scythe or wear a hooded cloak (unless it’s cold). Death is an interesting narrator – he easily sees the kindness in humans, but he is also left to clean up the terrible messes that humans make.
In celebration of Hitler’s birthday, the SS arrives and there is a bonfire of books in the center of town. You see, those words aren’t approved by Hitler. They are subversive. The only book that should be in the home is Mein Kampf. One book survives the bonfire, and Liesel steals it. One person sees her, the mayor’s wife, a woman with fuzzy hair who never speaks. She and Liesel form a friendship; the mayor’s wife leaves the window to her library open so Leisel can sneak in and steal books.
Throughout the story, Liesel makes friends, comes to love the Hubermanns, and also befriends Max, the Jew that the Hubermanns hide in the basement. From Hans Hubermann, she learns about kindness and bravery. She learns about the value and importance of words; how they can inspire people in both good and bad ways.
It really is an incredible book, unlike none other I’ve ever read. I can even say that it is one of the few books that has changed me.
You can check out The Book Thief at Boyd County Public Library, or place a hold on it or any other item by clicking here.