I put off reading the Book Thief for some time. Something about its cover, its title, and the Young Adult marketing, led me to assume that The Book Thief was a Pollyanna-esque story about a girl in the foreground of a trying time in history who discovers the power of books and reading.
I was way off.
The story isn’t about childlike optimism and happy endings. This story is about death, told by Death himself (or itself?). In an ingenious use of narrative device, Death takes us through Europe 1943 and follows a young German girl, orphaned in the middle of the war, and sent to live with an impoverished foster family. Yes, the protagonist is twelve (or eleven), and yes she discovers books, but not by way of stumbling upon a library of classics. She discovers books through the storm of death and destruction all around her. Indeed, the first book she comes across is a some kind of graveyard manual carried by the pallbearer at the burial of her six year old brother. She then makes a habit of rescuing books in the bottom heap from the hate fueled censorship bonfires of the Nazis.
The reader learns little about the Allied Forces or the major players of WWII. Instead we are confined to one street in Germany, the families on that street, and one household. I don’t think I had read about WWII from this perspective; a very domestic, personal point of view. Or a sympathetic German one. But thanks to this book, what I understood about the war intellectually, I now understand on an emotional level: the war was tragic on all fronts.
For a beautifully told, different perspective on World War II, read The Book Thief.