Although I wouldn’t suggest The Book Thief when you’re feeling down, it is one of the greatest books I have read to understand suffering and death. Its descriptive language about Germany during WWII will bring new insight to you about how day-to-day life looked like during that time. The book thief is a girl named Liesel Meminger, a tough girl who has a huge appetite for learning.
When Liesel’s parents fear for their lives under the Regime, they send her and her younger brother away to a foster family. Sadly, before reaching their destination, Liesel’s brother dies of illness. Thus, when Liesel reaches her new home, her foster parents are surprised when they are one child short. Her foster parents are Rosa Hubermann, a tough woman who hides her emotions, and Hans Hubermann, an empathetic, patient father.
When Liesel’s nightmares of her brother’s death cause her to wet her bed, Hans wakes and cleans her bedsheets without batting an eye. To help the nightmares dwindle, Hans then teaches an eager Liesel how to read. She becomes so passionate about words and stories that she starts attending book burnings just to get her hands on more books- and becomes the Book Thief. But when her family hides a Jew named Max Vandenburg in the basement, Max will teach her about the power of words and their ability to create and destroy. Their friendship will change the two of them forever.
One thing that struck me about The Book Thief was the character’s reactions to the adversity around them. Liesel, Max, and the other characters involved in this story help us understand how real people would react to living in this time. There is fear in every heart on Himmel Street. However, we begin to see the personal fear and reaction to living during the war. These characters do not only fear; they learn how to cope with their fears by prayer, the comfort of others, and the powers of a good story.
Liesel’s relationship to Max also stood out in a good way. It made me realize one important thing, that they didn’t romanticize the special bond Max and Liesel had. I love a good romance, yet I thought their relationship was stronger because they didn’t have romantic feelings for each other. Granted, it would have been disturbing because Liesel is thirteen when the book starts, and Max is twenty-two. But still; this was a wise and intentional choice by the author. The reason why Max and Liesel’s relationship was so critical in this story was because it allowed for deeper understanding into human suffering. When we are suffering or fearful, we have the ability to bond deeply with people who are suffering as well. We are able to understand each other and strip away the petty things that normally make it hard for us to get close to each other. The very last few chapters of the book we see the ultimate strength that comes from their relationship with each other. It is heart-breaking; their bond is so strong because of their suffering and need for one another.
The other thing I admired about this story was its insight about death. Death is the narrator of the story. But instead of a cynical, sarcastic, or terrifying Angel of Death, we get a Death who is a tired worker. He gets depressed by his own job and yet never ceases to be amazed by the compassion (and corruption) of humanity. The best part, however, about death being the narrator is this: he is the only one who has a relationship with all the characters mentioned in this story. Not only is he the glue between all of these characters; he also is a theme throughout this book, because (spoilers) many people died during WWII.
Even though death is mentioned in this book, you won’t find any opinions about the afterlife; whether it exists or not. God is mentioned once; he is Death’s boss. We don’t understand much about the god mentioned in The Book Thief, but I do wonder how accurate Death’s character here matches up with the Angel of Death in the Bible. Does the Angel of Death ever get tired of his job? I bet he does- who would enjoy it?
Then again, imagining an Angel of Death who loves his job does sound fantastically creepy.
Please, please, please read The Book Thief. It is a hard book to get into at first; but after a while you’ll be itching to pick it up again. One of my good friends said, “There are some books that you forget about, and they become jumbled in your mind. Then there are books that will stick with you forever, and that is what The Book Thief does.” I agree- you will never forget this book.
Published on 12 June, 2014. Last updated on