The Book Thief

In the ever growing list of books that have left an impression on me, The Book Thief went straight to the top when I read it. The book that is a touching story about a girl in early WWII Germany, a girl who picks up a book, learns to read and learns to love books. The story would be touching even without the books. Without the narrator, who just happens to be Death. It would be touching just as the story of a girl who loses her dad to Nazis and her brother on the way to be given away to foster care, because her mom had to hide; her parents were communists. What makes it a spectacular read, is Death as the narrator, and the books, that are like salt in food. Not necessary, but brings out the true flavor.

The common thread begins when the girl’s – Liesel Meminger is her name – brother is buried by the railroad after dying in the train and one of the gravediggers lose their handbook in the snow. Liesel picks up the book, holding on to it like it could bring her brother back. At the time, she doesn’t even know how to read, but she keeps the book as a relic under her mattress until one night her step-father finds it and using the book, he teaches her to read.

That one book, as grave as it is, is the one possession she holds most dear. She reads it over and over again, until she gets her second book: she retrieves a smoldering book from a nazi bonfire, after everyone has already gone. She is overseen by te mayor’s wife, but she stays silent for her own reasons. The true paradise for Liesel opens up as the mayor’s wife invites Liesel to her library, telling her she can come over any time to read. She understand’s Liesel’s love for books and stories and she nurtures it. Liesel is in awe and for a while she can barely breathe.

Liesel and her foster parents are a humane kind of family. People who value people and refuse to hate jews while trying to maintain a balance where they wouldn’t be in danger themselves. The father with his accordion, the mother with her big heart and foul mouth, Liesel with her love of stories. The best friend who takes a swim in the icy river to salvage Liesel’s book. The jewish refugee, who writes his own story on the leaves of Mein Kampf (after painting them white) for Liesel to find and read when she is older.

The book grasps the horrors and fears of little town in Nazi Germany like none I have read before. And I have read quite a few of them, books about that age and time. Anne Frank was almost an obsession to me and visiting her hideout in Amsterdam an almost religious experienvce. Leon Uris with Mila 18, excellent book as well. Corrie ten Boom. And who knows how many others. Most of them haven’t stuck; I can’t remember half of what I’ve read. Only the most powerful reading experiences leave a permanent mark in my mind.

This book about the little book has all the makings of a classic. The extremely compelling storyline, the rich character of Liesel, the human tragedy that comes with the nazi/jew territory, the love of books, for all things. Not jewelry, not coins, not toys. A passion for books and reading and how it all starts and evolves. In the midst of the hardships of Hitler’s reign, of poverty, of missing family members, of the terrors of war. It is Liesel reading to the people in the bomb shelter that calms them all down. It is Liesel reading to the old lady missing his sons, that gives her a wee bit of joy each day. It is the stories that weave the stories. And the biggest stories of all, are our lives.

Quite often I like to watch movies made of books I have likes. Almost as often I am heavily disappointed. Like with the Veronica Roth’s Divergent. It was an ok movie, but the differences just were too much. And the second book-to-movie, Insurgent? The trailer was already so absurd compared to the book, that I completely dismissed the movie. Or like the Shadowhunters. Cassandra Claire’s books weave an awesome captivating world that you just want to dwell in. But the movies and series based on her books? Meh. I watch them simply because they give a tiny Shadowhunter-fix despite the differences.

With this in mind, The Book Thief movie was a really pleasant surprise. Of course you need to simplify things and cut some corners when making a two hour movie from a novel, but this movie made it in a totally classy way. The movie was every bit as powerful of an experience as the book. It captured the atmosphere, the feeling of the story excellently. So for once I can truly honestly say: if you’re not really a reading person, at least watch the movie. It’s a story every person in this western world in the era of Trump et al. should read or watch. Just to *remember*.