12 of 52 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.
Outstanding! 5 out of 5 stars without hesitation. The Book Thief is simply a great book.
The narrator is Death. The setting is Nazi Germany during World War II. The main character is a young girl who steals books.
I knew all of this before I started it. Still, I had it sitting in my “to read” pile for months before I got to it. I kept thinking, “Death is the narrator? Really? Am I sure I want to read that?” It was highly recommended, though, so I finally plunged in. I’m so glad I did. Death is the perfect narrator for this book. What we get in the war story told through the voice of death is the perfect blending of the realistic and the fantastical. We get something that is spectacularly Gothic in the best literary sense of the word. We get something that brings home all of the very real horrors of war while still allowing us to drift off in a kind of dreamy hopefulness for the power of humanity to prevail against the horrors.
I love Death in this book. I love the voice of Death. This voice is lyrical and wise.
You might think that the fantastical element in the choice of narrator pigeonholes the book as Young Adult literature. You might think the teenage main character pigeonholes it as well. Certainly, this book is appropriate reading material for teenagers, and it might be legitimately classified as YA. However, I see it more as the kind of book that transcends the lines of distinctions between younger readers and older readers. This isn’t just a YA book that will appeal to adults. It’s for anyone of any age, and it’s a great read no matter who you are.
Have I mentioned yet that I love this book?
Liesel Meminger steals her first book at her brother’s graveside. She takes it with her to her new home where her interest in the book inspires her foster father to teach her to read. We see all of the war then through Liesel’s perspective and Death’s voice — the rationing, the cruelty, the bombing, the death. We see the war as experienced by the German family as they hide a Jew in their basement. We see the war as experienced by a working class street where everyone has more reason to fear the Nazi Party than to join it.
And through each major turning point, Liesel has a new book. She isn’t greedy, you understand. She doesn’t take two books when she only needs one. She doesn’t steal a new book while she is still trying to finish the previous book. She just does what she has to do to keep words alive in her life.
She is the Word Shaker. This is the name that Max, her Jewish friend, gives her because she reads to him while he is sick, and she reads to others while they are waiting out air raids in bomb shelters. There is so much attention to the power of words, in fact, that words themselves nearly become their own character. They have physical presence. They perch on shoulders, creep across rooms, fall with thunks to the ground. They are world changers, and through them Liesel carves out her own place in the world. Through tragedy after tragedy after tragedy, she comes back to the words to see her through.
This is a must read. Go out now and grab the first available copy. Pour a cup of your beverage of choice and prepare to savor.