After two books on the horrors of North Korea, two memoirs about the Palestinian occupation, another about a Lost Boy of Sudan, still another highlighting Hindu/Muslim massacres in Kashmir – all one after the other (what was I thinking??!!) – I picked up Markus Zusak‘s The Book Thief, only because it came with my teenage daughter’s insistent recommendation. In spite of the Thief‘s countless (major) awards and accolades – it’s one of those rare titles with deservedly unanimous approval – I had managed to somehow bypass its celebrated pages for six years.
That the book is about a young girl during the Holocaust whose story is narrated by Death, gave me an initial shudder of terror, having already caused myself regular literary nightmares. But as read by Allan Corduner (who sounds uncannily like Jeremy Irons), the audible production is a transcendent experience of one of the best books I’ve encountered in years. And yes, I wholeheartedly endorse both handheld and stuck-in-the-ear formats together: if you choose only the not-to-be-missed audible route, you’ll miss the wrenching illustrations available only on the page. This is when the library comes in handy for experiencing both … how fitting as the book is so much about books, after all.
Liesel Meminger arrives in the small town of Molching, Germany, to become the foster daughter of Hans and Rosa Hubermann who live at 33 Himmel Street [Himmel means "heaven"; 33 is also deliberate]. The year is 1939, and Liesel is just about to turn 10. All around her, the Führer’s abominable doctrines are fueling what will be remembered as history’s worst war.
Hans, who plays the accordion like no one else, whom Liesel will love “the most,” will teach her to read, which will ultimately save her life. Rosa, who hides her enormous heart under impatient curses, will demand that Liesel call her new parents Mama and Papa and will love her unconditionally into forever. Rudy, her next-door neighbor and soon-to-be best friend, will finally get his kiss too late. And Max, who comes to live in the Hubermann basement, will give her the gift of writing … and of everlasting friendship.
In a book about the redemptive power of words, storytelling, and books, I can’t seem to find the right vocabulary to describe the utter brilliance of Thief. Just know that Zusak’s writing is so affecting and glorious that you’ll smile, hope, mourn, laugh, weep … and thoroughly, unabashedly, savor this extraordinary treasure.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2006 (United States)