Seldom do I read a book in which I’m so impressed that I find it hard to write about it. This book, whose theme on the power of books and words, spoke to me in a way I found to be thoroughly enjoyable.
That’s not to say this was an easy story to read, because it wasn’t. Any time I read a story involving hardships experienced by children, I find it very difficult. I actually stopped reading at one point – about 20% into it. My eldest daughter convinced me to keep going. She was right. The first section seemed dark but, once past that, I just had to keep going. Here’s the basic outline of the story:
As the story opens we meet Liesl, a nine-year-old girl traveling with her mother and younger brother to a small town south of Munich, Germany. The time is Winter 1939. Her mother is taking the children to live with a foster family because her life and that of her husband’s is at risk.
On the way, the younger brother died. By the time Liesl reached the foster family, she was beside herself with grief. She was the lone survivor in her family.
Liesl’s new foster mother was a screamer, a verbal abuser and very tough with her. But her foster father, Hans, was a sweetheart. He understood Liesl’s need for books and words. He sits with her in the middle of the night teaching her to read. He also played his accordion to soothe her bad dreams.
The story covers four to five years. Liesl does assimilate into the community and made friends with a neighbor boy, Rudy. Life was very tough during this time, especially the children who didn’t understand. There was dwindling funds for everything, bombs began falling, the boys were pressured to join the Hitler Youth organization, and Jews were sadly paraded through their small village on the way to Dachkow. Liesl and her foster family also hid a young Jewish man in the basement for a couple of years.
Those are the basics of the story. How it was told was so touching that it became personal. I could actually visualize the children, the adults, and the grim life in the village. My grandfather, his parents, and six siblings came over from Germany when he was just five-years-old. I grew up knowing the way the characters in this book talked and acted. I assigned members of my family in the roles of the characters.
Fortunately, my family escaped the horrors of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. In The Book Thief I saw what life might have been for them. As I read the background on the author I learned that Markus Zusak’s inspiration for the book was a story told by his mother. I suspect she went through some of the same things Liesl did.
I do suggest that you give this story a chance. There’s so much I haven’t told you about, particularly about the books Liesl stole. That treat you’ll have to experience on your own. Just make it though the first section and you’ll be reading a real treasure.