Did you know that words can come alive? That they can levitate from its source to smack you in the face, to soothe your tired soul, to pat you on the back or to sting your eyes ever so painfully? Did you know that words can be used as a very lethal weapon? Even to wage war? Did you know that words can save a life too?
I have never known words to come alive, as they do in The Book Thief.
Markus Zusak gives life to words: ‘The words dropped from his mouth like jewels’, ‘She sprayed her words directly into the woman’s eyes’, ‘The words were flung at her, landing somewhere on the concrete steps’, ‘she was holding desperately on to the words who had saved her life’ are some of the phrases you will encounter while reading The Book Thief
You will notice while starting the book that a lot happens in one sentence and you will have to adjust your pace (I know I did). If you are the kind of person who reads absentmindedly, you will miss a few important details here and there. A very prominent example is at the beginning where a girl is traveling by train with her mother and brother in one page, and in the next, she is reluctantly meeting her foster parents in Himmel Street, Germany, minus her mother and brother.
The Book Thief is about Liesel Meminger. A nine year old girl who loves words. She loves them so much that while other children her age are starving for food, she starves for a book. To her, being in a library was equivalent to being in Disneyland. Irony is she steals her first book before she even learns how to read.
It is about Liesel’s foster parents; the Hubermanns – Hans and Rosa. Her very kind and likeable Papa, Hans, is a painter who likes to play the accordion. Her strict and no nonsense Mama, Rosa, does people’s laundry for pay.
It is about these three Germans living under one roof in tough economic times where they scrap for their daily meals.
It is about two adults giving a nine year old girl with no family, a reason to hope again.
It is about The Second World War in Nazi Germany. ‘The Fuhrer’ whom we all know as Adolf Hitler.
It is about a Jew called Max Vandenburg who seeks asylum in Hubermanns’ basement because Jews (just like communists) and Hitler were sworn enemies.
It is about the very strong bond that develops between Liesel and Max. German and Jew. Where they read together, they play together, they fear together, they laugh together. And where they gift each other sentimental keepsakes.
It is about Rudy. (Oh, Rudy!) An athletic eleven year old boy who is in love with Liesel and lives for the day he will get a kiss from her.
The peculiar thing about The Book Thief is that the story is narrated by death. Just like words, death is personified and boy, does it have a sense of humor! And is it obsessed with color!
The story is told in an unconventional way. In one instant, you are given a peek at the ending where one of the characters will die. “…I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest and astound me’, Death says. You continue reading the book knowing that the character is going to die. But still. STILL, when it happens, it is as heart wrenching as only death can be. Typical, wouldn’t you say?
When reading it, you will need to fetch a tissue as soon as you hit pg 533 titled ‘The End of The World (Part II)’. If you are anything like me, the waterworks will be turned on from this page up until you finish reading the book, and then some. You will cry so hard that your heart will sink. You will feel it weighing down on your lungs with exhaustion from all the emotions.
Death will show you a part of it that you never even dared to imagine. “You want to know what I truly look like, I will help you out. Find a mirror while I continue”. He carries souls “…in his fingers like suitcases. Or I’d throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms.” It is interesting to imagine death like that. Yes. “Even death has a heart”.
What’s more? The Book Thief ends well! It leaves you emotionally drained and all but it does end well. Not well in the sense that it has a happy ending, but well in the sense that the story is well wrapped up. You don’t hang around waiting for more words where there are none. You don’t toss the book in anger. You simply close it, accept it and you refuse to stop crying. For a while at least.
I am now reading Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child, which is about Terrorism – how apt, right? I am sure I will read The Book Thief again. I have to read it again. Yes. It is one of those books. So hard to get out of your system.
Now if you are a girl. And there is a boy who fancies you. And you fancy him back. And he is dying to get a kiss from you. And if there is any slight chance that you want that kiss as much as he does. Then do it. Go find him and kiss him. Kiss him now when he can still kiss you back. The only thing worse than a boy you hate, is a boy you like.
I rate The Book Thief a 4.8 out of 5
Photography by: Hailey Irene Cheruto