“Nine-year-old Liesel lives with her foster family on Himmel Street during the dark days of the Third Reich. Her Communist parents have been transported to a concentration camp, and during the funeral for her brother, she manages to steal a macabre book: it is, in fact, a gravediggers’ instruction manual. This is the first of many books which will pass through her hands as the carnage of the Second World War begins to hungrily claim lives. Both Liesel and her fellow inhabitants of Himmel Street will find themselves changed by both words on the printed page and the horrendous events happening around them.”
Quite simply, this book is one of the best I have ever read in my life. I hadn’t heard of it until it was handed over to me as a recommended read. I was gripped from the start. Using an unusual narrator can either make a book flop or succeed, and in this book, it works beautifully. The haunting backdrop of the Second World War is brought firmly to the forefront as narrator Death collects life after life during this period of mass genocide, recounting the events in a poignant, melancholic and beautifully stark manner. Liesel’s life is shaped by this horrific period of history and The Book Thief takes us from her arrival on the street to her losing everyone she loves.
It’s one of those books where rarely a page goes by that I don’t find something I want to write down and commit to memory because it’s just that beautiful. Sentences like ‘she had a starving smile’, ‘the cardboard texture of her complexion’ and ‘the chit chat of faraway guns’ stuck in my mind and will do for a long time.
As fascinating as I find this period of history, I tend to veer away from Second World War novels because they don’t do it justice. The Book Thief does, more than any book in its genre than I’ve ever read, and then some. Every facet of it is beautiful, from Liesel’s accumulation of her book collection (The Grave Digger’s Handbook – what a hauntingly apt tome to start her library with) to her relationship with Rudy and her run-ins with Ilsa Hermann. I simply cannot recommend this book enough. After only one read, it’s risen to the top 5 of all the books I’ve ever read. I suspect it will stay there.
(A quick note: I know this book was written as YA fiction, but I just can’t categorise it as such.)