The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (2005)
Genre: Historical Fiction
First lines: "First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try."
The year is 1939, the place is Germany. Liesel Meminger's life is forever changed when her brother dies during a train ride to Munich. Liesel is with her brother and her mother. The mother is taking her children to Munich to place them in a foster home, because she can no longer care for them. Liesel is placed with a family in Molching on Himmel Street. Hans and Rosa Hubermann are an interesting couple whose children are grown. Rosa is fierce and profanity spills from her mouth constantly.
"In the beginning, it was the profanity that made an immediate impact. It was so vehement and prolific."
In contrast, Hans Hubermann is kind and gentle.
"To most people, Hans Hubermann was barely visible. An un-special person."
"The frustration of that appearance, as you can imagine, was its complete misleadence, let's say. There most definitely was value in him, and it did not go unnoticed by Liesel Meminger."
For all of Rosa's gruffness, she loves Liesel and takes good care of her.
Liesel becomes known as the book thief by the narrator because she stole her first book just after her brother was buried. One of the grave diggers dropped a book called "The Grave Digger's Handbook" and Liesel picked it up and took it with her. She longs to learn to read and wants to read this book. The book is important to her because it signifies the last time she saw her mother and brother. It is a long time before she steals another book, but eventually she does. Books become very important to her.
Life is difficult and scary during this time in Germany and Liesel learns that words can offer comfort. When the Hubermanns harbor a Jewish man in their basement, Liesel connects with him over books and reading and words. When Liesel wakes from a nightmare in the middle of the night, she and Hans read together. When they are huddled in a neighbor's basement during an air raid, Liesel reads out loud.
I chose to read this book after it was named as a favorite of two young women I know. I saw the movie years ago, so I didn't remember too much of the story. I have to admit that I almost gave up on the book in the first 50 pages. I found the narrator a little strange and the story wasn't holding my interest. I decided to continue and am glad that I can now say I have read this book. However, I would not label it as one of my favorites, but I can see why others do. Another thing that made it difficult for me to read was the constant use of profanity and blasphemy. However I do think that it did add a little humor to the story at times.
The strength of the book is the characters and their relationships. I also loved the role of reading and books in the story. Stories helped the characters bear difficult circumstances. Liesel needs books as much as she needs food or air and this is portrayed well in the story.
Overall, I am glad I did not give up on this book.