This quote one of the first lines for the narrator of The Book Thief, Death, says to you, the reader. This quote spoke to me – I tend to put off reads such as this because I know they will greatly impact me and it worries me, scares me, and I procrastinate about reading these stories.
Such was the case with The Book Thief. I have wanted to read this story for years. I knew it’d be rough being a story of a young girl in Nazi Germany. Then, the movie was released, and due to the bad reviews, I put reading it off even further. At the end of 2016, I determined this would be a must read in 2017 and when I let my kiddo pick out my next read, this was the one I agreed to.
The Book Thief is a much-needed story of life and resistance by Germans during World War Two. The actual book thievery is the backdrop to numerous struggles the citizens of Germany went through during that time. Some Germans hid Jews, some that saved books from fires, some that didn’t fly the flag, and there were those that questioned the government. And there were consequences for it.
The thievery is also a story of how reading can save your life.
But most importantly, The Book Thief is the story of the power of words.
Our story opens with the tale of Liesel stealing her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and is told by Death. Just as Night in Vassa in the Night, Death is a person and narrates our story. I don’t believe this story would’ve worked any other way. I also feel this may have been a reason why people didn’t enjoy the movie – it would be difficult to pull this off. Side note – I have not yet seen the film. Death is incredibly insightful and fills in the background information for us to help the reader understand the motivations and suffering of our characters. Death for me was a “he” in this book, but if you think otherwise, I’d like to hear your thoughts. And, he is blunt.
“It was a year for the ages, like 79, like 1346, to name just a few. Forget the scythe, Goddamn it, I needed a broom or a mop. And I needed a vacation.” – page 307
To not reveal spoilers here are the struggles that I saw impacting Liesel and her story:
- Government structures (communism, fascism)
- Outcomes of World War One (death of a generation, dealing with decisions, the poverty)
- Repression of freedoms (speech, press)
- Hitler Youth (some scenes hinted at the breeding “schools”)
- Mein Kampf can be used to save lives as well as destroy them
“Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without a question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye. They were French, they were Jew, and they were you.” – page 350 (ps – uncontrollable sobbing started in this chapter, after this line)
The story had a definite feel – it felt dirty and muddy. As Death notes, he notices the colors of things and lets us know, he sees three colors in this story; white, black, and red. I saw the color brown. Zusak speaks of dirt everywhere, trash, mud, and stains. All of these feel brown to me.
What this book reminded me of is that is always loss – always people who didn’t ask for certain things, such as war, to happen. Even on an “enemy” side, there is still good.
Last week I watched a video by Epic Reads on YouTube that talked about opening lines and how they set the tone for a book (P.S. Epic Reads – if you see this, make a video on last lines too!). In The Book Thief, I believe the most powerful and resonating line was at the end –
“I am haunted by humans.” – page 550
This book will change your life and perspective. I gave it five of five stars on Goodreads. It is a hardback book buy and one that you write notes to your future generation of readers to understand how it impacted you. My book is read, dog-eared, and tear-stained. I am happy I read this book and when it comes time for the kiddo to read, I’ll re-read it along side him and re-visit Death and the lessons he taught me through Liesel.