By the first few paragraphs of The Book Thief I was captivated by its depth and magnetism. The storyteller providing information, incite, and emotion is Death. While the novel tells of the fascinating and stunning experiences of young orphan, Liesel Meminger, during the tumultuous years of Hitler’s rule in Germany, the delivery of the stories is what makes it a remarkable book. Despite the truly sorrowful and trying occurrences that plague the life of the protagonist, it remains impossible to forget who, or in this case, what is telling the reader about Liesel.
From the start I wanted to know the answers to many questions, but foremost in my mind throughout the text was the anticipation and confusion about why Death is enthralled with this particular human. “I saw the book thief three times,” Death mentions as it describes the scene of the first event, the death of Liesel’s brother. This description not only sets up the reader for the future turmoil the girl will face, it depicts the first incident of book thievery. As the text proceeds, the reader is taken on a journey through the memories and experiences of the protagonist that are paralleled by her acquisition of new books.
Each book serves a meaning and a purpose as the narrator communicates the reason this child plagues his thoughts even though he is able to forget the rest of humanity. Starting with the first book she obtains at her brother’s grave, which she uses later to learn how to read, Liesel grows in both intelligence and spirituality. The books and how she finds them become part of the explanations for her emotional, economic, political, and ethical struggles. Interwoven into the text are accounts of the books’ meanings and significance. For example, the Duden Dictionary, describes key words like fear, anger, and opportunity, which correspond to events and emotions of the people closest to the girl.
As the story continues, the reader is haunted by the character traits and suffering among Liesel’s family and friends that unfold in conjunction with each stolen book. It is revealed that the resentment Liesel and her best friend Rudy feel towards the mayor’s wife, Ilsa Hermann, may be unfounded. Although she is wealthy and has her own library, she too feels the effects of the war. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Max. A Jewish man hiding in the basement of Liesel’s home, he is fighting for his life. But, the books he writes while in hiding depict larger issues than his own suffering and connect him to the lover of the written word, Liesel. Told in chronological order, the words in the books and personal experiences of several people combine to form the world of the book thief.
From the beginning the presence of Death is strong; but, as the tale develops and complexity of emotion increases for the reader, the narrator fades into the background. Still, knowing the “thing” telling the tale is always present leaves an eerie sense of impending danger. The reader is not wrong to expect Death to return, and by the end of the novel there can be no doubt it is present.
Regardless of what I should have known would be the end result of the book, I concluded feeling shocked, saddened, and a bit numb. It was impeccable the way all aspects of the text flowed and led to the final result. The colorful and empathetic descriptions captivated my thoughts and further reflections. Now I know why Death remembered every detail of Liesel’s existence. In fact, I might go on remembering too.