The Book Thief still impresses after almost 10 years

Colleen Pletcher

The main character of this book is a girl by the name of Liesel Meminger, living in Nazi Germany. The narrator of the story, however, is Death. Although the beginning of the book is a little hard to understand, it soon becomes clear that the story is being told by Death, who describes himself as “tired” of the immense carnage caused by humans; and even comes off as sympathetic and kind in some parts of the book. Death reveals that the story spans a long period of time and then he goes on to mention some major spoilers — namely, who is going to die by the end of the book. Although it might seem like that little tidbit of information basically gives away the story, the truth is just the opposite.

The main story is about Liesel, who comes to her foster parents — the kind Hans Hubermann and the tough but loving Rosa Hubermann — in the heart of Nazi Germany at age 10, shortly after the death of her younger brother, which haunts her throughout the novel. This central story lasts four years and hosts a score of other rich characters: Liesel’s best friend and eventual romantic interest Rudy, Liesel’s other friend Tommy, the mayor’s wife, who opens up the world of reading to Liesel, Liesel’s neighbor and most importantly Max — the Jewish man who Liesel’s foster parents hide in their basement. These characters help Liesel develop her love for reading and her passion for life. We watch her grow from a scared, scarred little girl into a strong, big-hearted teenager who cares deeply for her friends and family.

The main storyline centers around Liesel stealing books. When one first starts the book, they might figure that the thieving is more constant and present, instead, the events of thievery are few and far-between. Each book Liesel steals is a harbinger of a major event or change in Liesel’s life. For example, the second book she steals is right after the discovery that Hitler and his concentration camps have most likely killed her birth mother. Shortly after she steals this book, the mayor’s wife introduces Liesel to her massive library and invites her in to read.

The story does not necessarily have a happy ending, but it is certainly an appropriate one. It officially ends in the epilogue when Liesel meets Death, and Death tells her that her story is touching. It is fitting that Death has the last word, because the story is really about Death, and about how one can still find life when Death is all around.

The Book Thief is a beautiful story about human nature, the power of the written word and the tragedy that strikes individuals when the world goes to war.