The story follows Liesel, a young girl growing up in a foster home in Nazi Germany. The Hubermann’s have taken her in when it was clear to her own mother that their family was in danger. Death comes across Liesel’s path in a couple of instances in her lifetime and is struck by this special girl, which is why he chose to tell her story.
A few themes I loved:
Death’s compassion. It hit me about halfway through the book that Death, at least The Book Thief’s Death, isn’t scary. He’s sad. He’s busy. He’s compassionate. He’s devastated about sitting up top bath houses and catching body after Jewish body that’s been gassed and killed. He can’t believe the things humans do to one another. He talks frankly about when he takes people and when he doesn’t. I learned to love Death as a character.
In the back of the book, there’s a Q & A with the author, Markus Zusak, and he says this about Death as a character: “Death was to be exhausted from his eternal existence and his job. He was to be afraid of humans – because after all, he was there to see the obliteration we’ve perpetrated on each other throughout the ages – and he would now be telling this story to prove to himself that humans are actually worth it.”
Hans & Rosa Hubermanns love. When we first meet this couple, they poke at each other, gripe at each other, call each other names. You think, 'Wow, this couple must loathe one another.' But it’s exactly the opposite. They are so much in love. When your husband brings home a Jew to hide in your basement and you ask no questions because you would do anything for him… Well, that’s love. And they loved Liesel like their own. It’s almost heartbreaking.
A favorite quote: “Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened. Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing that 24 hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew.”
The other side of the story. When we think of Nazi Germany, it’s so easy to hate all the people who lived there. How could they let this happen? How could they just stand by? Sure, we know the stories of people like the Hubermanns who were brave and helped those who need it. But, some just choose survival. They might not agree with the Nazi party, but they join, just to survive. They might not want to go fight for them, but they do so their son doesn’t have to. There is always another side. And it makes you wonder: Who would I be in that situation? Would I risk my butt? Or would I fly under the radar? Either way works, just as long as you live, right? And the same goes for current times. I try to remember to always give someone the benefit of the doubt. Because people can be going through some tough stuff and just need a break.
I loved this story. It was engaging and special and it sticks with you once you close it. It’s not joyous by any means, but there are several happy parts to it. Happiness to hang on to amongst the rubble.