Many moons ago on the recommendation of a fellow book lover I purchased The Book Thief with the best of intentions.
I read, maybe, twenty pages and then got distracted by the never ending busyness of life. The book patiently sat on my bedside table waiting for me to pick it up again and resume my journey. I barely laid a hand on the book as weeks quickly turned into months. I’m now ashamed to say that the book quickly became forgotten and was delegated to the bookshelf of forgotten books waiting their time to come back into my life.
Deep down, I’d like to think that it always knew that I would be back. It knew to be patient.
Fortuitously, I was sitting in a cinema watching the customary trailers before the feature film when The Book Thief’s trailer played. I cast my thoughts back to the bookshelf and I promised myself that I must finish reading the book before watching the film.
A week went past.
Then, on Sunday I defiantly decided that I was going to start a book review on my blog. It was a resolution to read a book a week until the end of the year and I knew exactly which book to start with.
I went to the bookshelf, blew the dust off the cover and once again started reading the first page.
Needless to say, I devoured the first half of the book in one night.
It was reminiscent of a welcome homecoming; it was as if book was saying to me “hello again, old friend - I was here waiting for you”.
I feverishly turned the pages intrigued by the choice of narrator: Death. Which of courses seems completely appropriate when you consider that the story is told of Germany during World War II. I mean, if anyone or thing should be able to understand and articulate the atrocities of war than surely it must be Death.
However, don’t let this apprehend you. Rather than being a tale of morbidity and ever-present mortality this is a provoking story of incredible hope in more than compelling circumstances. It is about both tragedy and triumph… but most of all it is about life affirming love.
The protagonist of The Book Thief, and indeed “the book thief” herself, is Liesel Meminger; an illiterate orphaned child who is taken in by a kind hearted German couple, Hans and Rosa Hubermann.
Hans Huberamann breaks the mould when it comes to idyllic patriarchal figures and Liesel quickly finds herself besotted by him. It is in fact the patient Hans who teaches Liesel how to read her first stolen book. Rosa takes on more of a “tough love” approach when it comes to the child. However, while she can be harshly abrupt and god-fearing her love for Liesel always bubbles close to her surface.
Liesel’s closest ally and partner in crime is her next-door neighbor, Rudy Steiner. My goodness, do I love Rudy. At the tender age of twelve he is easily what every girl is looking for. Throughout the novel Liesel constantly refuses his advances however, you can easily tell that what they have is something incredibly beautiful and special. For these are two children starved by war who when in each other’s company never go wanting. In fact, it’s Rudy who coins the moniker “The Book Thief” for Liesel after standing lookout while she stole her second book from the mayor’s wife’s library.
Now, a story set in Germany during World War II would not be complete without the trial and persecution of a Jew. Therein, through the dark of night seeking refuge walks Max Vandenburg. In an Anne Frank-esque style he is hidden in the Hubermann basement; so, while the street outside is adorned with swastikas and “Heil Hitler’s” this German family of three defies the Nazi party and willingly put their lives on the line for a stranger.
Now, I could easily go into tireless detail lovingly adoring the masterpiece of every word on every page but I don’t want to ruin the experience for you.
Instead, know this.
Remember, how I told you at the start of this piece that I devoured half the book in a singular night? Well, that’s no lie. In fact, I could have very easily read the whole thing. However, that thing happened that always happens when you’re reading an exceptionally good book… you know the thing, the moment you realise that it’s going to end. So, instead of dealing with that inevitable fate you linger. You try to cheat the ending. You savour every delicious word on the page and in doing so you fall even more deeply in love with the characters. You draw it out for as long as possible until you are met with the final words on the final page. You resurface from this important and philosophical tale, emotionally exhausted.
The Book Thief ruined me.
I was deeply moved.