In The Book Thief, death is more than an event, it is a spirit that comes and takes the souls of those who have died and delivers them to their destiny. Death is an all knowing, all seeing spirit who has different feelings about each of his victims and says of them, “I’m am always finding humans at their best and at their worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both”
Death introduces himself directly to us at the beginning when he says “You will know me well enough and soon enough. I suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you and your soul will be in my arms”. One more important thing, Death is the narrator of this story.
Liese is turned over to foster care by her mother and then taken to her new home. On the way her younger brother dies and they stop to bury him. As she leaves the cemetery she finds a book laying on the ground called The Gravedigger’s Handbook. She can’t read but this becomes the first book she steals. She will eventually have 9 books of her own.
Hitler, the rise of the Nazi Party, the outbreak of World War ll, and the persecution of the Jews, are all part of the story, but it is still the story of Liese and her life that captures our interest.
She comes to appreciate her new parents, Hans and Rosa, and her father slowly teaches her to read. A neighbor boy, Rudy, becomes a best friend and they have adventure after adventure with the neighborhood kids.
Her father had been in World War l and his life was saved by the father of a Jew named Max Vandenburg. Max finds Hans, and hides in his basement. Liesel’s relationships with Hans, and later in the book Max, are key portions of the plot.
The books Liese steals are ones that the Nazi party wants destroyed. Mein Kampf is the exception and it saves Han’s life, but then it is painted over inside by Max and he uses it to write a story inside it for Liese. The power of the written word is an important part of this story.
The book is easy to read. It is a story that shows Germans of very different points of view during this important time in their history
“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.”
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
“It kills me sometimes, how people die.”
“Even death has a heart.”
“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.
“A small but noteworthy note. I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.” (Death)