“It’s just a small story really, about, among other things:
*Some fanatical Germans
*A Jewish fist fighter
*And quite a lot of thievery”
I usually mention The Book Thief when asked to list my favorite books. I don’t remember where I heard about the book or why I picked it up, but I read it for the first time in 2009. And while I always mentioned it as a favorite, I knew I had forgotten many of the details. With the movie coming out, I decided to reread the book. Thankfully, the book was just as good as I remembered.
The Book Thief depicts daily life in Nazi Germany through the eyes of Liesel Meminger. Liesel and her brother are given up by their family (who are, it is implied, being persecuted by the Nazis for being communists) into the care of a foster family. However, Liesel’s brother dies on the train journey and is buried quickly in a haphazard ceremony beside the tracks. As the unexpected funeral finishes, Liesel picks up a book that has fallen out of one of the grave digger’s pockets and keeps it for herself. This is her first act of book thievery.
Liesel’s new family consists of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who struggle to make ends meet due to Hans’s troubled standing with the local Nazi Party. Liesel also befriends the boy next door, Rudy Steiner, a rather incorrigible flirt who dreams of running like Jesse Owens.
When Liesel starts school, it becomes quickly apparent that she doesn’t know how to read. When Hans discovers Liesel’s stolen book, which turns out to be The Grave Digger’s Handbook, he and Liesel begin middle-of-the-night reading lessons using the book, despite the fact that Hans is not a strong reader himself. The father/daughter relationship between Hans and Liesel is one of my favorite parts of the book (and the movie).
When World War II begins, life at the Hubermann’s becomes more challenging. Rudy and Liesel are required to attend Hitler Youth meetings. Food becomes more scarce. Rosa, who earns money doing washing for others, begins to lose clients. Liesel steals another book from a Nazi-sponsored book burning, and befriends the mayor’s wife, who lets her read from her library. The constant threat of bombing raids becomes a fact of life. And most importantly, the Hubermanns take in and hide Max, the son of a Jewish man who saved Hans’s life in WWI, who becomes a sort-of brother to Liesel.
Speaking of the movie, I got to attend an advance screening just over a week ago. They are slowly releasing the movie to more and more theaters, so keep an eye out for it over the next few weeks. I thought the movie was wonderful.