The Book Thief

20 December 2013
Written by Diana Kenny
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Diana Kenny describes The Book Thief as soul stirring: this story of a young girl whose passion for books sustains her while war rages, will touch your heart


I see that a film adaptation of one of my favourite books is about to shown in our local theatre.  This is one time when I will see the film; I generally prefer my version to the suspect creativity of the producer. However The Book Thief is one I will definitely see.

I remember the impact it had on me when I first read it and if that can be sustained without sanitising then all will be well.

If you have not already read the book I urge you to do so.  The author, Markus Zusak, reworked the novel over three years to achieve the effect he wanted, 'to get the right words out' which didn’t happen until he hit upon Death as the narrator. Even then Death had to undergo a couple of personality changes it get it just right.

Growing up in Sydney listening to the stories told by his immigrant parents of their experiences in war ravaged Germany, Zusak came to understand that all was not black and white. That ordinary people were just trying to survive in a world that had become overturned by words. Hateful, destructive, vindictive words used by Hitler to conquer a nation by fear, by giving that fear a focus, Jews, Communists, Homosexuals, Gypsies, anyone who didn’t live up to the ideal of the pure Aryan race.

The main character Liesel Meminger, is on her way to foster parents with her mother when her brother dies and she steals her first book, The Grave Diggers Handbook.

Her foster father Hans Huberman teaches her to read and Liesel becomes engrossed in the power of the written word.  At a Nazi book burning ceremony she “steals” her second book The Shoulder Shrug and begins to understand that her parents were Communists.  She is witnessed in the act by the Mayor’s wife, Ilsa, who invites her into her own library one afternoon as Liesel delivers the laundry. This situation unfortunately comes to an end when the Mayor catches them reading together and fires Liesel.  Unable to give up the books Liesel begins to “borrow” them from Ilsa’s library, thus becoming the 'Book Thief'

Interspersed with her love of reading are Liesel’s relationships with the other children in Himmel Street; her special friendship with Rudy Steiner, who is always asking for a kiss. Max Vandenburg, the Jewish son of the man who saved Hans Hubermann in World War One is hidden in the basement endangering all their lives.  Max is also a book lover and encourages Leisel’s inquiring mind.  He writes on the basement walls with her, presents her with a journal and tells her: 

“In my religion we’re taught that every living thing, every leaf, every bird is only alive because it contains the secret word for life.  That’s the only difference between us and a lump of clay.  A word.  Words are life.”

This is a book truly of unforgettable words that stirs the soul, it will be very interesting to see how it transcribes to images.



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