The Book Thief is the story of a young German girl, Liesel Meminger. While traveling to Molching, a small town outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, Liesel's baby brother suddenly dies. In a snowy graveyard Liesel steals her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook. At this point, Death, the narrator, becomes intrigued by the girl and starts to tell her story. She's given to foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, for reasons that she does not yet comprehend (her biological mother has been labeled a Kommunist and is taken away). Despite Rosa's obstreperous and frequent swearing, Liesel feels secure and loved by her foster parents. She develops a special bond with her foster father, a gentle soul with silver eyes who patiently helps her learn how to read. Throughout the story her love of reading grows and becomes more significant, and she "picks up" a few more books. Liesel becomes best friends with a boy named Rudy ("with hair the color of lemons"), goes to school, and life is pretty good, although she's still haunted by her brother's death. But soon everything changes for the worse. As Germany prepares for WWII, Jews are threatened and taken away, and the Hubermanns, who oppose this senseless brutality, hide a Jew named Max Vandenburg in their basement. Germany's brutality toward Jewish people, and to those helpful to Jews, is a dominant theme in this book.
Throughout the book, Liesel is drawn in by the power of words and books and reads at every opportunity, sometimes aloud to others. She learns the significance of words--words in her books that help her escape from a bleak life, as well as words which hold the country under the hideous control of Hitler and the Nazi party. Hitler's autobiography and book of political ideology, Mein Kampf, is important in several ways in The Book Thief.
Let me stop now--before I give away too much of this book. The Book Thief is quite original, touching, and beautifully written. It brought to mind two other books I've read about the horrors of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi, and The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. In 2007, The Book Thief won the Michael L. Printz Honor Book Award and the Boeke Prize, and in 2009 it became a bestseller on the NY Times' list of children's books. I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially to adults.
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