Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Once again I’m still engrossed in a current longer read so I’m sharing a movie review today for Markus Zusak’s #1NYT Best Seller – The Book Thief. The movie was so well done, I can only imagine how much more engrossing this book is to read.
The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that is now a major motion picture, Markus Zusak’s unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.
When Death has a story to tell, you listen.
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
“The kind of book that can be life-changing.” —The New York Times
“Deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.” —USA Today
My 5 Star Review:
Tenderness among war.
The story opens with narration from the grim reaper himself – death. The movie begins with young Liesel Meminger and her brother being brought by their mother on a train to a small town outside of Munich, fleeing persecution for their now dead father’s crime of being accused of being a communist. The mother, fearing for hers and her children’s lives is traveling with her children to give them up for adoption to spare their lives. The brother dies of an unmentioned illness while on the train, and the narrator, death, continues to tell the story of the pitstop LIesel and her mother made to a shallow grave near the train station where her brother’s body was buried. As the grave digger walks away, a book drops out of his pocket to the ground – The Grave Diggers Handbook, which Liesel sneakingly picks up and puts in her pocket.We are now in the thick of Liesel’s newly adopted life by a poor, childless German couple, Rosa and Hans Hubermann.
Liesel warms up quickly to her new compassionate step-father, and endures a bit of tough love, harsh treatment from her new mother. It is a time of the human condition when children too become part of and aware of the landscape in early 1940s Germany with severe rationing, limited access to food, frequent roundups of neighborhood Jews, and many basic freedoms, and many fearful nights hiding out in bomb shelters.
Liesel is taught how to read by her new father Hans, who discovers Liesel struggling to read a hidden book she keeps under wraps – The Grave Diggers Handbook, the only book she ever had. And once she learns how to read, her appetite for reading more books only grows. Later in the story, a young Jewish man, Jacob, is brought in the basement to live in hiding, as a debt owed by Hans to Jacob’s father for once saving his own life while fighting in WWI. Jacob continues to teach young Liesel more about books, reading, and ignites her passion to write her own book when he gifts her an empty book – one he had in his possession written by Hitler himself that he painstakingly took the time to paint every page over in white paint to both cover the horrors off the pages and to offer a clean writing slate for Liesel.
LIesel becomes best friends with her neighbor Rudy Steiner. They spend a lot of time together, and Liesel must be very careful not to let on that Jacob is living in hiding in her basement. One day, Liesel and Rudy were outside when they caught sight of a Nazi book burning event while inside the center of town. They watched as a mountain of books were lit aflame, and once the fire began to smoulder, the onlooking crowd dissipates. Liesel see this as her only chance to save one book. She runs to the sizzling book pile and grabs one nicely charred, but still readable, hides it under her coat and runs home with it. All the while the mayor’s wife Ilsa Herman is watching her from inside her parked limo on the dark, dingy street.
Rosa Hubermann does laundry for the mayor’s wife for extra income. One day Liesel delivers her cleaned laundry, and Ilsa invites her into her library to look at her book collection. Liesel is in awe, and this library becomes a place where Liesel occasionally ‘breaks into’ to snatch a book to read. Liesel later becomes ‘the reader’ at the many neighborhood gatherings in the bomb shelter to shield from the air raids, keeping the people engrossed in her storytelling instead of focusing on their fears.
I am not going to go into spoilers of this beautiful, yet, heart wrenching story, but suffice it to say, Jacob eventually leaves from hiding on his own volition because he feels he can longer risk the lives of his saviors, and as in most war stories, there are a lot of fears, violence and loss of life – and the bombs continue to fall, taking more away from Liesel’s young life.
This story is a most beautiful telling about a horrendous time of the world. Despite the subject matter, Zusak manages to get in, not only the horrors about war, but focuses his story on how that war affected people and their everyday lives, instead of taking us directly into the action of horrifics of the actual prisoners of the holocaust.
Last poignant line by the narrator: “I am haunted by humans.”