The Book Thief floated around my mental-then-digital book list for years. When I was in elementary school, librarians recommended it. I even checked it out from my public library once, but never read it. So it was put off for years and years until one day I was at Barnes and Noble and picked it up again. I knew the movie had come out months before. I knew it was popular. I had some expectations from this book, the kind of unconscious assumptions and understandings that build up before you actually read it and in some cases, it falls a bit short. Not this one. I expected sad. I expected an interesting and good story. The Book Thief didn’t fail me there, but surpassed my highest expectations. I didn’t expect the tragedy, thought-provoking musings, actual-true-happiness in a World War II book, and the complete and beautiful story told by Markus Zusak.
I truly believe that Zusak’s writing may be the best I will ever encounter. The frequent yet lasting imagery and thorough character building gave his words the power that Liesel Meminger sought so desperately. The Book Thief follows four years in Liesel’s life, in which she lives with foster parents Rosa and Hans Hubermann. She runs the streets with Rudy the boy with lemon-colored hair. Hans plays her nightmares away on an accordion and teachers her to read in the dead of night. They harbor a German-Jew that shares Liesel’s love of words. Meanwhile, Death narrates their tumultuous and fragile life in World War II Germany.
In The Book Thief, Zusak perfectly balances action and inaction. There were spurts of fear, loss, peace, and adventure and there was never a time when I felt the story was too slow or I was tempted to skim a paragraph. Each page could be sweet, touching, funny, or cruel or all of these at once. Maybe it’s the setting, Death’s narration, or the fact that Liesel’s story begins with loss and you just know there is more pain to be felt. Whatever the reason, each moment of this book demands to be appreciated and experienced - and strongly so. Its life, isn’t it? We know our end might be coming any day but we continue living anyway. We keep making friends and laughing and living. Death himself reminds the reader of this fact on the very first page. We will all die someday. And it is easy to blame death for pain, war, loss, and hate. It’s easy to blame death for a lot of things. But if this book tells us anything it is that death is not evil - humans are. They are also heroes.