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Book Review: The Book Thief

I love starting a book I know almost nothing about. There’s a delicious sort of anticipation as the story unfolds because I have no idea which way it’s going to twist and turn. Every page is a new surprise. My boss recommended The Book Thief to me because she had watched the trailer for the movie that’s being made. It’s one of her most beloved books, so she was worried because the trailer starts being narrated by the young girl protagonist, Leisel Meminger, and not Death like the book is. I hadn’t read the book, so I couldn’t totally commiserate, but I could empathize because when they finally made The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into a movie, I had the same fears.

So, the sum of my knowledge about the book going into it was comprised of two points: a) The narrator is the embodiment of Death and b) the protagonist is a little girl. I didn’t even read the back of the book.

As I read, I was given a new picture of Nazi Germany–one where a street of poor people are trying to get along as best they can despite the war around them. The book opens with Leisel’s mother taking her two children, nine-year-old Leisel and her six-year-old brother, to an orphanage so they can be fostered with someone who can take care of them. The little boy is sick and dies before they reach Munich…he is buried without much ceremony at one of the stations on the way. As they are leaving the graveside, Leisel notices that one of the gravediggers has dropped a book–The Grave Digger’s Handbook–which is the first book she steals to earn her title as the book thief.

Ultimately, she is fostered with the Hubermanns, Rosa and Hans. Rosa is a surly and foulmouthed laundress; her husband is a gentle man who paints houses and plays the accordion. Leisel starts school, but the teachers quickly realize that she can’t read, so she gets pushed back to Kindergarten. Meanwhile, she has been waking up with horrible nightmares about her brother’s death. Thus begins the early morning lessons by Hans (who states himself that he’s not a very good reader in the first place) on how to read. He paints the walls of the basement so that they can write on them what words Liesel doesn’t know so they can learn them together.

But the book is less about her learning to read and more about the power of words.

Which is probably why I liked it so much.

My parents constantly read to me as a child. It got to the point where the only way my mom could get any housework done was if she sat me down with a book-on-tape that came with the book and made a special noise when to turn the page…which is something I can’t seem to find the current version of at the toy store, but I digress. One of my happiest memories is of my dad reading me The Great Mouse Detective which, now that I think about it, probably contributed to my love of Sherlock Holmes.

Digression over with, suffice it to say that this is a word book. Each word is chosen for exactly what it means. Definitions are given when necessary. Language and its power are given prominence.

And then there’s the one who collects them–the book thief.

  1. mbm8377
    September 19, 2013 at 11:16 am

    I’m not going to read the review only because this book has been sitting on my kindle for I swear a year now and I haven’t gotten to it. I’m moving it up in the list since a movie is coming out. I’ll come back and comment when I’m done! hahah

    • September 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      Fair enough! I think you’ll like it. 🙂

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