The Book Thief was raw, real, and left me broken on the floor.

Set in Nazi Germany, from 1939 to 1945, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a girl who was separated from her mother, tortured by the death of her brother, and obsessed with thieving books. When Liesel’s foster parents, the stern Rosa Hubermann who affectionately calls Liesel “saumensch,” and the tender-hearted Hans Hubermann who teaches Liesel how to read her stolen books, risk their German privilege and hide a Jewish man in their basement, the young thief is exposed to the atrocities of WWII. As she and her family navigate various predicaments involving people such as the Jewish fist-fighter hidden in her basement or the mayor and his queer wife, Liesel’s world continues down a path of abnormality. With Death cast as the narrator, The Book Thief captivates readers with his grim and alluring perspective on Liesel’s life and her war-corrupt society.

Although I prefer “plot-based” books, I must acknowledge that “character-based” books tell the stories that truly and irrevocably make and break me. Words cannot describe my appreciation for beautifully created characters like Hans and Rosa Hubermann, Rudy Steiner, Max Vandenberg, and–most importantly–Liesel Meminger. Aside from the characters, I’m obsessed with the figurative language used in this book, as well as recurring references made throughout the story. 

Because The Book Thief is a historical fiction novel, I couldn’t escape the realness of the book (no matter how much I wanted to and, trust me, I did). Reading the story forced me to contemplate a dismal truth: The people who actually lived this story, the people whose lives are now history, couldn’t escape their realities either. I cannot imagine living a life where your next day could be your last. I realize that as an American living in the twenty-first century, I have countless privileges that I often take for granted. Owning a book, for one, is something I have never considered an entitlement. By reading about Liesel’s experiences, I have gained a newfound appreciation for being where I am and who I am at this very moment. 

“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.” –Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

A still shot from the movie adaptation of The Book Thief. Image from Fandango.

No amount of hours spent studying WWII history could ever move me in the way The Book Thief did. Finishing the last chapters of novel, I took a solid thirty minutes to read five pages because I couldn’t stop crying. I believe that any person, a book lover or not, should experience reading The Book Thief at least once in their life. The story provides readers with such an incredible perspective on WWII, and the beauty of it is simply unforgettable. Grab your tissues and guard your hearts, because books aren’t the only thing The Book Thief steals.

A trailer for the movie adaptation of The Book Thief, starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, and Emily Watson.

This post is part of a book review blog, titled M & M’s Library. Read the introduction to the blog here.

Other reviews:
M&M’s Library – Atonement by Ian McEwan
M&M’s Library – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine