What if Death narrates a story for you? Okay, maybe not… but fictionally, he could do that. This is where the novel The Book Thief comes in. Written by Markus Zusak, this novel is set in Himmel Strasse, Molching during pre-WWII Nazi Germany era, when the phrase ‘Heil Hitler!’ was still in use and Mein Kampf was a bestseller.
The narrator of the story as I’ve told you is Death, and unlike what you think of him, Death here actually loves to talk about colours and is fond of human. For him, yes, it’s his job to take people’s lives and he couldn’t question God, but he thinks that the deaths of human, innocent ones particularly, are caused by the catastrophic mind of the humans themselves. That is true. In one way, Death here is almost like a friend telling you his own story. As grim as the story is, there are still funny moments here and there.
The real protagonist here though is a young girl named Liesel Meminger. She is forced to live with a foster family, which luckily loves her. Her lovable Papa, Hans Hubermann is an accordionist, while her Mama, Rosa, well, she might not be what you think a perfect mother, especially when she tends to call Liesel as Saumensch, an insult that unfortunately will not be given an explanation here, but yeah, she loves Liesel. Another person loves Liesel, and he’s lemon-haired, blue-eyed Rudy Steiner. A boy with an ideal German feature, he always asks Liesel to kiss him, but doesn’t get it until, well, something happens. Another character comes in the middle of the story, a guy who poses such a big danger to the Hubermann family when they protect him, Max Vanderburg. He is a Jewish, and if you were to be a Jew during that time, then you might as well commit suicide.
Book thief here refers to Liesel, as she loves to steal books to read. For her, words are something powerful, able to build a nation, or destroy people’s heart. Hitler has proved it for her. Around her, people are targeting Jews as their enemies, but Liesel [and her parents] still take care of Max. Liesel grows up amidst hell obscured by the name Himmel [that’s heaven], craving for and thieving words and books, and loving people, hoping that things will get better. Death follows her, and never does she know that something will happen to the thing she loves.
The novel is written in quite a different way. When Death feels as if he needs to tell us something important, he will do it boldly, literally. Everything – from the character, to Death, to the colours, the attention of the details – is crafted wonderfully. Some features, like The Word Shaker and The Standover Man supposedly created by Max Vandenburg adds novelty to the novel. Yeah, maybe 600 pages might be too long for some people. In fact, this book is not meant for fast reading. There are some many things to absorb.
The Book Thief: it’s poignant, it’s beautiful, it’s an absorbing read. Words can indeed capture people’s hearts, even Death feels it.