Once in a while, you come across a book that changes your life in some way. For me, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was that book. I read it a few years ago now, but the story has stayed with me. It is a novel which makes you laugh and cry, it pushes the boundaries of narrative voice, and it’s characters will capture your heart.
The setting is Molching, a fictional town in Germany near the concentration camp Dachau. It is a World War Two novel, but Zusak explores a new avenue by exploring the experiences of a young German girl, Liesel Meminger, who is sent to live with a German couple, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, during the war. I like the fact that the story is about Liesel and by proxy her Hitler youth friends. It is a reminder that it wasn’t just the families of the Jews or allied forces who were impacted by the war or who suffered as a result of the machinations of war.
Liesel is the ‘book thief’ referred to in the title, and a significant facet of the story is her journey from illiteracy to being a competent wielder of words. This is particularly powerful in a context where we have Hitler using powerful oratory and propaganda alongside suppression of literature to further his own purposes, particularly his agenda of Antisemitism.
The characters and relationships developed in The Book Thief are truly beautiful. Hans, Liesel’s new Papa is a man of integrity and value on a level that reminds me of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. His tenderness towards Liesel is perfect and endearing while the banter between he and his cantankerous but kind wife Rosa provides some comic relief. Liesel has two significant friends. The first is Rudy, a lively German boy who is best known for painting himself black to be like the runner Jesse Owens. The second is Max, a Jewish fist fighter who is hiding in their basement.
One of things I loved best about this book was that is was full of little gems like this:
There is so much I could tell you that I love about this book, but I would prefer you to read it yourself and find those moments that capture you without having had me spoil them for you first.
The film version of The Book Thief came out earlier this year and is very well done. Like any film I think that there are some elements I would have liked more time spent on and aspects that I had imagined differently to how they unfolded on screen. But regardless of that, I loved it. My husband enjoyed it. My parents loved it.
When I started writing this blog I had two books in mind that I consider to be 5/5 novels. It is against these novels that some fairly good books receive fairly low ratings. So, today I present you with my first 5/5 novel: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
There are some really lovely editions out there – I personally like this one.
In other news I just bought the dvd and am SO excited about it!