I read a blurb for this book somewhere and was determined to read it. It sounded like it was full of adventure, emotion and human determination. There was one other thing it should have sounded like if I hadn’t fallen prey to my fallible memory. It should have sounded like the film that I had watched a couple of years ago… Sigh!
It was around page 32 that I remembered the film and, honestly, my heart plunged. I felt like the joy of the book had been stolen away from me by watching the film beforehand. Luckily I decided it was too late to go back now and that I would just have to see this book through. I’m glad that this is the course of action I chose because the book was delightful. The detail, the imagery, the spirited young protagonist had me reaching for the book at all hours of the day. And the experience of reading the story was different to that of watching it. Having said that, the film really set the imagery of the place and the characters for me so that in many ways having watched it beforehand became a sneaky little bonus. I know – I’m so contradictory!
Growing up in the UK, we are used to hearing stories of wartime Britain. Air raids and bomb shelters, rations and nights spent on underground train platforms. Of course similar events were playing out for ordinary Germans while the Nazi’s had their grip on power during the war. Many of these events have made their way into fiction. ‘The Book Thief’ plays out against this political backdrop.
Leisel Meminger is a German girl who has been sent to live with foster parents in the small town of Molching. Her foster father, the kindly Hans nurtures her and helps her along with her reading, whilst her formidable foster mother provides her with equal doses of beatings with a wooden spoon and unwavering affection. On the whole it’s not such a bad life, but Nazi Germany is not a good place for those who sympathise with Jews, like Leisel’s foster parents. A treacherous path lies ahead.
As to the title of the book. Leisel is a book thief. Not a particularly prolific one, it must be added, but a book thief all the same. In amongst the poverty of wartime Germany, for people like Leisel and her family books are not easy to come by, but Leisel manages to get her hands on them and each book she owns, whether pilfered or gifted shapes Leisel in some way.
The book is narrated by a surprisingly affable Grim Reaper. You get the sense that the poor guy is just doing a job and that he gets rather a bad wrap in general. He sees people as they really are. The community he depicts is haunted by war, scarred by their experiences and yet there is so much affection and solidarity amongst them that it makes him see the best in us. In the words of Death himself ‘I am haunted by humans.’ The Book Thief is a beautiful, magical book and one that I am very glad I took the time to read.
Next Monday I will be reviewing ‘Sometimes I Lie’ by Alice Feeney. Do come by to check it out!