Have you ever come across a book that you instantly decide is a classic?! The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, an Australian author, can be labeled as such. I got this book from a friend on my 19 birthday and believe me when I tell you that I was pretty skeptical about reading this one.
The story starts with Liesel, the daughter of a Communist agitator, on her way to her new foster family, to escape prosecution, when her brother dies on the train. She finds a little black book at his funeral which she hides and keeps with her since it becomes a reminder of his death for her even though she is unable to read. When she gets to her new foster home, she meets her new hot tempered mother, Rosa Hubermann, and a sweet man as a father, Hans Hubermann, who later on teaches her how to read.
Liesel is clueless to the reality of her situation, dealing with her set of problems while settling in with a new family and the relationship she develops with the residents of the neighborhood. After a while, at a Nazi book burning ceremony Liesel is provoked when an officer gives a speech on how to cleanse the German society through burning books and this leads to Liesel stealing her second book which survives the burning and takes it home. Contrary to expectations, however, this was not the reason why she was called The Book Thief.
She is seen stealing the book by the magistrate’s wife, Ilsa, who has lost her son, and is a customer of her foster mother. When Liesel is dropping off laundry at the magistrate’s house, his wife invites her in and shares her collection of books in the library at her home. Liesel is eventually discharged by the magistrate because of the economic situations in the country. This forces Liesel to sneak in and starting to “borrow” books from Ilsa’s library, which finally earns her the name “The Book Thief”.
Now the things take a turn for the worse when her foster family hides a Jew named Max in the basement. To save Max’s life and for security reasons, he is not allowed to get out of the basement. Max and Liesel bond over books as they start to read and share stories. Max also helps Liesel to write a book but after a while Max is forced to leave after Hans defends a Jewish prisoner against a Nazi Officer. What makes the book stand out is the fact that it is narrated by Death, who claims he’s extremely busy. The book is set in Nazi Germany, a place and time when the narrator’s claim seems to be true. It takes true talent to not let the depression of death turn the story into a read that eventually drains you because of all the sufferings and pain.
Writing a novel like this is not an easy task but Zusak has done the impossible. The little melodramatic pronouncements, the dry humor and the manner of emphasizing the little details by Death makes you shiver with anticipation as the story progresses and you just cannot help but appreciate the writer’s talent.
This book is not for people who like happy endings or are fast readers or are doing experimental reading. This book sucks you in and leaves you in wonder as you fall in love with how a little girl falls in love with books even with the chaos around her. I would recommend this book not only to those who love historic fiction but to everyone else who considers themselves a “bookie”; this book is definitely to be treasured as a classic.