The Book Thief opens with a crowded train, snow and the death of Liesel’s younger brother. This is the first death to touch her life. There will be many more. This is also the moment when she steals her first book, a gravediggers instruction manual.
When war breaks out, it will affect everyone living on Himmel Street – including Liesel and her new foster family. It will drive wedges between fathers and sons, and cause others to give up all hope. It will make people keep secrets from their best friends. It will force families into impossible dilemmas, as they have to choose whether or not to sacrifice their principles by staying silent and protecting themselves and those that are dependent on them.
Unlike other books set against the backdrop of WW2, The Book Thief moves away from the action of the battlefields and instead takes us inside a typical German home, on a typical German street. Rather than being a story about war, it’s a story of how war and events impacted on the life of individuals.
Told from the almost omniscient viewpoint of Death himself, each section of The Book Thief begins with a series of facts that give clues of what is to come. A narrative is then woven around these facts to create a rich and intricate story.
We see everything from a joint perspective – as Death tells of the millions of souls lost to the war, a young girl grows up and experiences everything first hand. This really helps to hammer home the poignant and horrifying reality of life in a world at war.
Books and words are a constant feature throughout the novel. They help Liesel to come to terms with loss, they help her to overcome her fears and they help her to bring comfort to others. Most importantly, in my opinion, they form the fundamental basis of new bonds and relationships with the people in her life.
Finally, I can’t write a review of this book without mentioning the beautiful language used throughout. Markus Zusak is a real master of words, and each sentence and description is beautifully crafted. Every phrase is chosen to conjure up a vivid image, colour or scene that the author wants us to see, and it feels like he really wants you to take your time to immerse yourself in the world that he created.
If you haven’t read this book yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The film version of this book is out now, and I’m sure it’s amazing, but give the book a go first!