I am haunted by humans.
So concludes Death at the closing of the The Book Thief
. The story of a young German girl struggling to survive and find meaning and happiness in a small town while WWII rages around them is a tale of survival and love. Left to live with a foster family by her mother for reasons Leisel doesn't immediately understand. She has lost her whole family - father, mother, and brother - yet she finds a new one on Himmel Street. There is Rudy, the boy next door who loves her, her fierce and loud-mothed foster mother Rosa, Hans her new Papa who teaches her to read the books she thieves, and Max - the Jew they are hiding in their basement.
This is only the second story I've read about WWII that features a German family trying to survive the war. It is a nice reminder that while there were plenty of Hitlers, Himmlers, and Frau Dillers, there were just as many, maybe more, ordinary Germans who were just trying to live their lives the best way they knew how. There were Hubermann's hiding Jews in their basement, Steiners who resisted the Nazi party's order that they send their 14 year old son to be trained in a special school for the best of the master race, and Frau Holtzapfel's who lose both their sons to the war machine. The Book Thief
is a very different book from the only other Zusak novel I've read, I Am the Messanger
, yet the unique way Zusak has of telling a story is there. Choosing Death to narrate the story was a master-stroke, elevating the story above what it could have otherwise been. Seeing the story through Death's eyes, getting glimpses of what is to come, was the perfect vehicle for the story. It is Leisel's love however that drives the story. Leisel's love for Rudy, her love for her papa, her love for Max, and most especially her love for words.
This is a book for everyone. It is beautiful, touching, and moving. While the New York Times
states that this is the kind of book that can be life changing, that claim might be a bit far-fetched. It does shed light on a part of history that is over-shadowed by the sheer immensity of what Germany did throughout the war, and it does it in a singularly unique way, but my life has not changed or improved in any measurable way because I read it. However, I highly recommend this book to all lovers of books and Word Shakers. It is worthy of our attention, if only because it is so wonderfully written.