I read this book when I was ten. I was a voracious reader, reading books like one breathes air. It was perfectly natural. On the day that I came upon The Book Thief, I remember nothing except the great pit of excitement of finally reading a mature book. Before this book, I was raised on a staple of Percy Jackson's and Harry Potter's, then before that Junie B. Jones and Aesop's Fables. And as amazing and deep as these books really were, I never saw past their humour and magic.
The Book Thief starts with Death as our narrator, telling us a marvellous story that simply can't be missed. This story, by the way, is about a girl. A girl named Leisel Meminger, whose brother dies in a train cab, and whose mother promptly gives her up for adoption.
Death, in this case, is not unfeeling. He immediately says so in the beginning of the book. In fact, he kind of seems, almost, human. ( ironic, I know).
Need a minute to process all this? Don't worry - so did I.
Naturally, as a person with a younger brother, this situation was extremely emotional for me. I simply can't imagine life without any member of my family. So seeing Leisel, watching her own brother get buried in front of her, it was scary, and most of all, surreal. It was so saddening to see a girl, no more than two years older than me have to live through that, and worse, expected to get over it.
Oh, and don't forget, this is just the beginning.
She reaches her new home, welcomed by two strangers that she would come to love - Rosa and Hans Hubermann.
Now here is where the story starts to get interesting. When Leisel wakes up in cold sweats one day, after wetting the bed, she calls Hans, who helps her in a quiet, supporting way.
If you haven't noticed, Hans Hubermann is awesome.
Getting back to the plot, Leisel is fitting into her new life as best she can - playing in the streets with other kids, going to school, making friends and doing chores inside the house. Leisel doesn't do to well in school, on account of the fact that she doesn't know how to read.
That is when the beauty of the book really begins.
To combat this problem, Leisel shows Hans a book she stole from the man who buried her brother. It is called "The Gravedigger's Handbook." Letter by letter, word by word and night by night, Hans and Leisel learn how to read. It really is beautiful, seeing Leisel's opinion on words go from derision and mockery to wonder and adoration.
In all honesty, this is how she becomes The Book Thief.
She and Rudy Steiner, her best friend, partner-in-crime and love of her life, join a group that steals things. Apples, sweets, and other grocery items mostly. But soon enough Leisel and Rudy start to steal books, from the Mayor's house.
And as if things couldn't get any more illegal, a Jewish boxer shows up.
No, this not the punchline to an extremely insensitive Holocaust joke.
Max, the Jewish Boxer, is in trouble.He needs to be adopted. Hans owed his father his life, so while Rosa is mortally opposed to the idea, she still begrudgingly agrees to let him stay with them.
The relationship between all the characters in this story are amazing. They are deep and meaningful, and still light-hearted and relatable to the readers of this day and age. I am absolutely in love with the way characters are portrayed,
for example, take the way Rosa, Leisel's foster mom is described -
"like a small wardrobe with a coat thrown over it. There was a distinct waddle to her walk. Almost cute, if it wasn't for her face."
It's beautiful, how the characters are beautiful and flawed, how they are described almost childlishly simply - but that adds to the magic of it.
Rudy Stein is shown to like Leisel from the day he first met her. He follows her around, bickers and protects, and in general doing everything a best friend should. He famously painted his face black, like his role model Jesse Owens, which is something he gets teased about frequently. Leisel loved him, as one loves a childhood sweetheart, wholly and completely.
"The only thing worse than a boy who hates you is a boy who loves you."
Now back to Max. Leisel and Max took their time to warm up to each other, but when they did it was an instant hit. They found themselves to be kindred spirits ( though ten years apart) and shared their stories with each other. Max tells her how much he misses being outside, and in return, Leisel provides Max with the most creative, amazing weather forecasts in the history of weather forecasts.
“The sky is blue today, Max, and there is a big long cloud, and it’s stretched out, like a rope. At the end of it, the sun is like a yellow hole. . . .”
I have said this time and again, but I can't help but repeat it. There is a child-like wonder in every paragraph of this book. There are a few lines that just transport you to your childhood, but still manage to make you feel a deep emotion.
For Leisel's birthday, Max even makes her an amazing birthday gift - a book.
Not just any book, though. The Word Shaker is a book about Max and Leisel, and how amazing it is to trust again. Painted over the pages of Men Kampf, The Word Shaker gives us an enormously important moral - to believe.
A few months later, Leisel builds Max a snowman in the basement, a gesture that is wholly unappreciated by Rosa, insisting that somebody is going to get sick.
And somebody does - Max. He goes completely comatose, and if not for a fain pulse, some would even think him dead. Leisel reads to him every single day, believing that that will be enough.Some people from the Third Reich come to check people's basements in order to convert them into bomb shelters. It scares the whole family, seeing how easily and quickly their lives could fall apart.
So Max, who slowly regained his consciousness and health, in that order, leaves. In the dead of the night, when everybody else is in the bomb shelter, at the risk at getting smashed into smithereens, he leaves.
Leisel tries her best to go back to her normal routine, but she cannot. Instead, she drowns herself in words. Reading and re-reading and writing down the squiggly little things that can't seem to be contained in her mind.
The ending of The Book Thief struck me the most. It was something I had not expected at all.
It's devastating, especially given the description of the matter. It is surreal and terrifying like many themes in this book. It reminds me of what beauty and brutality we humans are capable of.
I love this book so much, for so many different reasons, including but not limited to :
The fact that Death also has emotions and regrets, things he loves and things he hates,
How poetic and beautifully worded the book in general is
How amazing Zusak is at making us bawl our eyes out for people we have never met,
So on and so forth.
More eloquently put, I just appreciate the art of weaving words out of thin air, creating emotions and lives, creating passions and hatred, making reading such an exhilarating, emotional roller coaster. I have read The Book Thief several times since that first experience, and each time I have come out with something new to learn from it.
On another note, this is my first formal book review so please excuse errors of any kind - grammatical, vocabulary - based or plot lines that I missed.
I choose to end with this quote from The Book Thief that I really enjoyed -
"I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have done them right."
- Markus Zusak, The Book Thief