“When everything was quiet. I went up to the corridor and the curtain of the living room was open just a crack….I could see outside. I watched, only for a few seconds.”

He had not seen the outside world for twenty-two months. There was no anger or reproach.

“How did it look?”

Max lifted his head, with great sorrow and great astonishment.

“There were stars,” he said. “They burned my eyes.”

The Book Thief is a story told by the Angel of Death, the surreptitious soul collector who is haunted by humans and who was very busy during the Second world war. He encountered the book thief thrice and it was a pleasure which he cherished forever. The Book Thief is a story of many people narrated by the soul collector.

It is the story of Liesel Meminger, who stole the first book when her brother was being buried by the gravediggers. The Gravedigger’s Handbook started her love affair with books in the troubled Nazi Germany. Her first act of thievery in many more to come. Liesel was sent to live with the Hubermanns, her foster parents, who lived on Himmel Street in Molching. Himmel means Heaven. 

It is the story of Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster father. A kind man and a Jew lover who was not afraid to offer his services to a Jew whose shop was vandalised. It was Hans who taught Liesel to read her first stolen book. Every night when Liesel woke up screaming from her nightmares, Hans sat with her and they read the Gravedigger’s Handbook. He whitewashed the wall in the basement so that Liesel may practice her spellings on it.

It is the story of Rosa Hubermann, Liesel’s sharp tongued foster mother, who called her husband and her daughter by names like Saukerl(bastard) and filthy pigs, to display her love. Who beat up Liesel when she did a mistake and loved her equally. Who sat with her husband’s accordion clutched tightly in her arms as moonlight swayed over her and as Liesel watched her from the door of the bedroom when Hans went to fight in the World War.

It is the story of Max Vandenburg, a Jewish refugee, who turns up one fine day on their doorsteps and change their lives more than anyone could have imagined. The Jew whom they hide in the basement of their house and who stayed there for so long that when he had a glimpse of stars, they burned his eyes. The Jew who painted the pages of Mein Kampf in white so that he could write his own story on it and present it to Liesel on her birthday. The Jew who was bound to Liesel with his own nightmares in which he fought the Fuehrer in a boxing ring.

It is the story of Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s neighbour on Himmel street and her best friend. Rudy who was crazy about Jessy Owens and madly in love with Liesel. Who jumped in the river to get her stolen book back, stole apples with her and helped her to steal books from the Mayor’s house and always asked for a kiss in return, which he got eventually at the end when it was too late.

After The Kite Runner, this was one book which again touched a raw nerve. I picked up this book because I liked the name and reading it was like living with all those people I have mentioned above. The book sucks you in and you can feel the pain and smell death. You actually see the Jews being marched on the Himmel Street. Starving and waiting to be killed. You see the Mayor’s wife, who lets Liesel steal from her huge library by leaving the window open. You see the people of Himmel Street bundled together in the basement of a house when the air raids start while Liesel reads one of her stolen book to them to divert their minds from the fear of death. There are so many timeless pages and memorable characters in the book who will always remain with you. The central theme of the book is Death and words. As Liesel learns how to read, she realises that its words which have held people in Hitler’s spell. She begins to understand the spell which words can cast to bring love as well as destruction. 

Written like a dream, this was one book which I had to recommend, although I have read many books after The Kite Runner. A powerful book of our times which should definitely be made into a movie.

Rating – 4.5/5

Author – Markus Zusak