The book thief is a humble twist on a war-time narrative. Poignant, hard and effortlessly readable.
Death as the narrator is a novel concept and it is interesting to have an omnipresent voice that also chimes in with pinpoint asides, ranging from sad comments to brutal observations on mankind.
The tale of the book thief, Liesel Meminger and her light-fingered but ill-fated friends, is tragic from start to finish and acted out on the ironically named Himmel Street. It is an off-centre book that offers human insights into war-time Germany, death, anti-Semitism, becoming an adult under Hitler and the desire to steal books and escape.
Zusak’s presentation of Liesel and her friend and partner in crime, Rudy Steiner, is flatly the conversation of the young. The dialogue that passes between them is inane, jaunty and callous; authentically young but twisted, a teenager of war time.
The book thief and her hidden friendship with, Max Vanderburg, is painstaking – the compassion that exists between them is excruciating and made more so by the Hubermanns protecting Max, the Jewish Fist Fighter, from the outside world in their basement.
The hosts of Himmel Street, are complex and deep characters. The Hubermanns, The Steiners, Max the Jewish Fist Fighter and Frau Holtzapfel, amongst others, interact wonderfully and miserably as they are whittled down slowly one by one and visited and revisited by Death, until only the book thief remains. Until Death’s final visit.
The book thief is a strong narrative of fragile life. Wretched and stirring and one that will inspire tears.
Memorable quote: “Now I think we are friends, this girl and me. On her birthday, it was she who gave a gift – to me. It makes me understand that the best standover man I’ve ever known is not a man at all.”
Published by Black Swan, 2007