Reviewed by Ambrea
“So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.”
Liesel Meminger is an orphan. At the graveside of her younger brother, as she is traveling to the home of her new foster family, she finds a single book: The Grave Digger’s Handbook. It becomes the impetus for a great adventure for young Liesel for, although she doesn’t understand the words, she understands the desire to read—the desire for words—and she seeks to learn more. As she learns to read, as becomes friends with energetic Rudy Steiner and Jewish fist-fighter Max Vandenburg, she sees her world in a new light and, more importantly, struggles with the new political dynamics of Nazi-occupied Germany.
The Book Thief is equal parts heart-wrenching and endearing. It’s an unusual book, considering Death acts as the narrator of Liesel Meminger’s story, but it’s laced with beautiful and intriguing language, a type of lingual synesthesia in which colors are linked to experience and emotion.
Moreover, Death makes an unexpectedly competent narrator: he’s very precise, very measured in recounting Liesel’s story, providing ample amounts of detail and description, but he’s also thorough and thoughtful. Although I found him—or it, whatever Death is considered—slightly unnerving in his depictions of life (and lack thereof), I enjoyed every last morsel of his narrative.
I will also note that The Book Thief is a novel that builds slowly, taking its time to work on the reader; however, it gives the reader ample time to form attachments. Honestly, I didn’t even notice how important these characters became to me, how attached I became to them, until, suddenly, I find them take away. When tragedy strikes, it’s quick, explosive, heart-rending—and it’s like suffering along with Liesel.
And, as much as those final pages hurt, as much as they wounded me in the reading, I was glad I picked up The Book Thief. I mean, Markus Zusak’s novel left me in tears when I reached the conclusion, but I don’t regret reading it and, truthfully, I feel as if I would have missed out on something truly wonderful if I had let it pass me.
As part of the final blurb on the cover, I read: “In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markas Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.” I couldn’t agree more. I was completely in love with every chapter, every page of The Book Thief with its wonderful characters and its beautiful language. It was truly a magnificent story.