I seem to be on a World War II kick in my reading. I have a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — a Lutheran pastor, Nazi resistor and ultimately a Nazi victim — completed about half-way right now. It isn’t a small book, so I have had to renew it and re-check it out a couple times already.

Pleasure-reading time is a scarcity in my life right now. Most of the “reading” I complete is through audio books on my daily commute. That is the case with today’s book, one set in Germany during World War II. I listened to the audio version of Markus Zusak’s hit book, “The Book Thief,” from the library’s MoLib2Go.org collection.

Thanks to the recent 2013 movie, the 2006 book has had resurgence in popularity. In fact, I needed to refer to a print copy for this review, and the only copy I could find was at MSSU’s Spiva Library. So, I found myself at Spiva, which by the way has undergone some beautiful updating since I was last there, borrowing their copy to review.

The book, in the voice of the narrator, is “just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”

Narrated by Death himself, “The Book Thief” is a multifaceted book that tells the story of human strength in the midst of unspeakable horrors, of the power and strength of words, and of people sustaining and giving life and love to others.

Liesel Meminger is a young preteen whose little brother dies while he, Liesel, and his mother are traveling to a foster home in Munich. Her mother is being taken who knows where, and the reader knows, although Liesel does not at first, her mother will be killed by the Nazis.

Liesel, the book thief, although illiterate, steals her first book immediately after her brother’s burial. “There was something black and rectangular lodged in the snow. Only the girl saw it. She bent down and picked it up and held it firmly in her fingers. The book had silver writing on it.”

Once with her foster parents, her foster father, Hans Hubermann, quiets Liesel’s regular nightmares by teaching her to read the book she stole, “The Grave Diggers Handbook.”

Learning to read begins Liesel’s love affair with books and her periodic theft of books. She steals them from Nazi book burnings and from the mayor’s wife’s library, and receives a couple as gifts.

As it is in real life, the more Liesel reads, the better she becomes at it, and the more books become her life blood.

She begins to read aloud – to the Jew hidden in their basement, to neighborhood people as they are crowded together in a bomb shelter, to a neighbor lady. Her words provide the strength and distraction needed to survive terrible times.

She even begins to write her own story.

Death is an unusual narrator. He has only seen Liesel three times, yet she has affected even him. Death permeates the book. You know people will die; after all, this is war. You just don’t know who and when (pretty accurate for war).

How and why he knows enough about Liesel and her life to narrate this book will remain for the reader to discover.

As I was listening to the book, I could not imagine becoming absorbed in the print version. The book changes times, places and viewpoints, and I thought it would be harder to follow. Death make interjectory and aside comments. It seems as though listening would be the only way to absorb and enjoy it.

However, with the print copy in my hands now, just going through it makes me see sentences that I’d like to repeat, reread and roll around in my brain.

I think I was wrong. The print version has got to be every bit as good, if not better, than the audio

I cannot compare the book to the movie. However, “The Book Thief” is available in print, downloadable e-book, downloadable audio and DVD from Joplin Public Library. You will probably need to place a hold on it, though. This very popular title deserves the attention it is getting.

 

 

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