The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger – a girl who is fostered by Hans and Rosa Hubermann in the fictional town of Molching on the outskirts of Munich during the war. The family are living in straitened circumstances not least because Hans is reluctant to join the Nazi Party and is seen as a Jewish sympathizer. Life becomes more fraught when they agree to hide Max, a young Jewish man, in their cellar.
Most of us thoroughly enjoyed the story although at times it reduced us to tears. The language is poetic and the details of the children’s lives are beautifully rendered. An interesting device is the use of Death as the storyteller – this allows a broader view at times – knowledge of the bigger picture that the inhabitants of Molching wouldn’t have possessed. It also allowed foretelling and little asides from Death which broke up the flow- this was not a problem for most, but annoyed one of the group.
The book thief is Liesel – 9 years old at the beginning of the story she is not able to read, but despite this she picks up a dropped book ‘The Gravedigger’s Handbook’ (this is precious to her as it represents the last link to her mother and brother). Using this unlikely book Hans starts helping her to learn to read. Liesel’s acquisition of more books delineates the sections of the story.
The Book Thief is about the power of words – to incite, to trap and to release: the propaganda that demonised whole sections of society; Liesel reading aloud to the neighbours gathered in a bomb shelter to calm and distract; stories of compassion and kindness written on the painted over pages of Mein Kampf; weather reports to a man who hasn’t seen the sky in months.
It is a book about the importance of small acts of kindness, charity and defiance: gifts of bread left along the road for the columns of Jews being marched to the nearby camps; little gifts gathered for Max when he is gravely ill.
The general feeling was that this is an excellent book and one which everyone should read, but whilst most of us gave it 5/5 one member of the group disagreed finding it too signposted and flat.