22. “The book thief” by Markus Zusak

Publisher: Doubleday, 2007
Page count: 592 pages

“The book thief” tells the story of Liesel, a 9-year-old girl, who at the outset of WWII is sent to the small town of Molching to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel’s baby brother was supposed to join her, but he dies en route to Molching, traumatising Liesel and she is haunted by nightmares for months to come. It is during her brother’s burial that Liesel begins her career as a book thief, stealing a gravedigger’s handbook (!) from the cemetery. While this is hardly suitable reading material for children, the caring and gentle Hans nonetheless uses this book to comfort Liesel and to teach her to read in the long nights following her nightmares. At the same time, Liesel and Rudy, the neighbour’s son, become best friends who play together, steal apples, and watch out for one another in school. Liesel therefore settles down fairly quickly and begins to enjoy her new life in Molching.

Tougher times are in store, however. As the war progresses, unemployment increases manyfold and food becomes scarce. Anti-semitism is rampant and Liesel’s neighbourhood in Molching has its fair share of Nazis and Hitler Jugend. Despite this, the Hubermanns agree to hide a Jew, Max Vandenberg, in their basement. Max is the son of a man who saved Hans’s life in WWI, and this is Hans’s way of keeping a promise to an old friend despite the obvious risks this entails. Max and Liesel become fast friends, with Liesel being Max’s only link to the outside world and a semblance of normality. Unfortunately, this being the second World War, their happiness is unlikely to last…

This is a peculiar book, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. “The book thief” is narrated by Death, who despite being kept very busy by two World Wars still manages to keep an eye on Liesel to tell her story. This accentuates an already strong sense of foreboding; as a reader one feels that this can’t possibly end well. It therefore took me a long time to finish this book, not because “The book thief” isn’t a compelling read (because it most certainly is), but because I was dreading the awful outcome that would surely come. I was not disappointed… Don’t let that put you off this book, though, because it is a highly readable and surprisingly enjoyable book with a different perspective (that of regular Germans who weren’t Nazis) than is commonly seen in WWII books.


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