The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – A Book Review
I bought this book based on a recommendation from a Christian fiction author. I had high hopes for this book, but it far exceeded my expectations. The story of Liesel Meminger, the book thief, is one that will linger in my memory for time upon time. Her tragedy filled story is also filled with the appreciation of small blessings, appreciation amid great struggles. As a retired reading specialist and classroom teacher, I was especially touched by Leisel’s struggle to learn how to read and her foster father’s patience and heroic efforts to help her. The bond that grew between them as they worked together through The Grave Diggers’ Handbook, her first stolen book, as Leisel painstakingly painted words on the basement wall, and as Papa read to her following her many nightmares was stronger than most between biological parents and children. Their love became bound up in a love of words, but also in a hate of words; words that healed, words that rendered.
Liesel also had intense relationships with her foster mom who loved deeply and showed it badly, with a neighborhood boy who longed for greatness and for one special kiss, with a wounded soul who shared her library and received a mended soul in return, and with one lonely Jew who also knew the power of words. Relationships documented by an unusual narrator, Death, a connoisseur of flavors, flavors the color of the sky as souls are collected, Death who vacations in moments of distraction.
My brain loves to look for patterns, to put things in categories. The Book Thief fits into a very small category of books, books whose language pulls me back to reread over and over just to enjoy the beauty of the words, words carefully selected and creatively used, words that are used unexpectedly, and words that paint vivid mental images, engaging all of my senses, pulling at my heart strings. If joins The Secret Life of Bees and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter among a very few other special books, books that celebrate the beauty of language.
I could not recommend this book any more highly. Yes, its setting in Germany at the time of the holocaust makes for difficult reading, and the losses in this book accumulate like piles of ash posing as snow, but the love and the blessings far outweigh the sorrow. They will leave you counting your life’s blessings, taking nothing for granted.