Every now and then, someone writes a book – one that can change the reader’s entire perspective on the world and can paint pictures in thin air. You feel as if you know the characters. You laugh with them and feel their pain. You cringe with fear when they do, and sometimes, you weep uncontrollably. The Book Thief is one such book.
Imagine Germany during the Second World War. Bombs tear the earth apart. Neighbours crouch in air raid shelters, united in fear. Food supplies are rationed and the children cry out in hunger. Brothers, husbands and fathers leave for war, perhaps forever. Rumours spread – about non-Nazi supporters being dragged away in the dead of the night. During such a time, which of us would be fiercely, stupidly brave enough to protect a Jew, to risk everything and save one life just for the sake of justice?
This book is set in a street named after heaven. It’s about humans – their regrets, the memories that haunt them and the moments that define them. ‘The Book Thief’ is divided into ten parts, each one named after a book that Liesel stole or was given - The books that shaped her life.
Liesel’s brother died in her arms and her parents were taken away under Hitler’s orders. But this book is not an ordinary World War II story. It’s not dark, horrifying and tragic. It’s about hope and laughter, and about words that can feed a person’s soul. It’s about doing the right thing during a dark and dangerous time. It’s about darkness and light and the significance of colours, music and inspiring stories.
The characters are so beautiful that you can feel them breathe. A quiet, silver-eyed man can teach a young girl how to read, thus providing her with the tools to change the world. An iron-fisted woman can secretly have a huge heart. A Jewish man can realise that he is as much a human as anyone else. And an idiotic boy with hair the colour of lemons can make you fall in love with him over and over again.
Words are at the centre of it all. Hitler uses those powerful words to drive people to destroy one another. Liesel uses words to calm people down. And the author, Marcus Zusak, uses his breath-taking, beautiful words to transport us to a time and place that we find so difficult to relate to. The narration is sarcastic, consoling, and seeped with irony. It will make you cry, I promise.
To Liesel’s comment, “I’ve stolen two books,” Arthur Berg laughs and replies, “You can’t eat books, sweetheart.” And he’s right, of course. But go beg, borrow or steal this book. For this one you won’t mind going hungry for a while.