To encourage people to read a book in which Death is the narrator and most of the characters die in the end sounds like a cruel trick. In the case of The Book Thief it is an invitation to experience the human spirit at its best and to experience the necessity of story for survival.
Author Marcus Zusak invites the reader to the fictional town of Molchin, Germany and into the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, a house painter and laundress, who take Liesel Meminger as their foster daughter. Liesel’s brother dies on the trip to Molchin and she is in need of unconditional love and support. She receives it in spades from Hans and Rosa.
The characters in The Book Thief are ordinary people who live extraordinary lives in conditions that grow worse every day. None of them are perfect, but they live their lives with decency and integrity.
In addition to making Liesel their daughter, the Hermanns hide a young Jew named Max Vandenburg in the basement for two years because of a promise Hans made to Max’s father who was killed in World War I. This costly act of kindness not only puts their lives in danger, but insures that they will have less food.
Ilsa Hubermann, the mayor’s wife makes her library available to Liesel who is hungry for books and learning and finally gives her a blank book which begins her writing career.
Max Vandenburg creates writing paper by cutting out the pages of Mein Kampf, painting them white with Hans’ left over house paint and creating stories and pictures as gifts for Liesel.
Rudy Steiner, a boy who lives next door, is Liesel’s friend and partner in crime. His claim to fame is the “Jesse Owens” incident which is a result of his admiration for Jesse Owens athletic feats during the 1937 Olympics.
Death becomes a frequent visitor and gently takes the souls of the citizens of Molchin as they are killed in the war.
Drawing from the stories of his German parents who later emigrated to Australia, the author creates unforgettable characters and scenes of life in World War II Germany.
But The Book Thief is much more than an account of small town life in war time Germany. It is a story of the human spirit. It is a book about life and death and the eternal necessity of telling our stories in every circumstance. It help opens the reader to the power of self giving love.
Do not be fooled by the fact that is often categorized as “Young Adult”. The Book Thief will challenge and inspire mature readers. I am eagerly awaiting Marcus Zusak’s next book.