It is 1939, Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier and will become busier still.
Liesel Memminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel's father was taken away on the breath of a single unfamiliar world - Kommunist - and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother's eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.
So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife library, where ever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.
The Book Thief is a story about the power of words to make worlds. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
The Book Thief is one of those books that you see overwhelmingly positive reviews for around the place. There was therefore a sense of some anticipation, but also some trepidation on starting this book because if so many people like it, it must be good right? But what if I don't? I shouldn't have worried because this was a good book - a very good book!
Just the set up of the book is intriguing, let alone the content. The narrator of the book is Death, and the setting is inside Nazi Germany during WWII. We hear from Death throughout the book, as he injects his own thoughts on life and death throughout the book. He first meets the main character of the book, Liesel, when her younger brother is dying by the sides of the train tracks. Liesel and her brother were being taken to a new foster family who live on the outskirts of Munich. With their father having already been taken away for being a Kommunist, her mother lives in fear, and has decided that it will be safer for her children to be cared for by others...just in case.
Liesel ends up living with a couple by the name of Rosa and Hans Hubermann. They have older children, boys who are off fighting the fight. Rosa is a woman with a tough exterior, but as the book goes on we find that she really has a heart of gold, and Hans is the one who shows Liesel the tenderness that she needs, the one who sits up during the night teaching Liesel to read and comforting her when she can't sleep. Along with the Hubermann's, there are also the other families who live on the street like the next door neighbour who has been feuding with Rosa Hubermann for years and the Steiners, most especially Rudy who becomes Liesel's best friend and fellow adventurer.
There are many subjects that are dealt with in this book. Death is just a few minutes away, the time it takes a bomb to fall, there are food shortages, there is the need for ordinary Germans to join the Nazi party, and the consequences of not joining, young love, loss, and for Liesel there is the thirst to read, to own books, regardless of how she comes to possess them.
Whilst the subjects sounds somewhat depressing, the observations in the novel are sharp, and there are many funny and poignant moments through out the novel. Death (the character) provides many moments where he makes fun of himself, and his own job, but without making it a complete joke. We get to see his own torment as he collects the souls of many people through out the book.
I had not read any of this author's books before, but if all of his other books are of a similar quality to this one, I will definitely be reading more!