In Liesel’s mind, the moon was sewn into the sky that night.
Clouds were stitched around it.
Curtains of rain were drawn around the car.
The horizon was the colour of milk. Cold and fresh. Poured out, amongst the bodies.
Tears like crystal floated down his skin,
despite the fact that he was not crying.
The tears had been bashed out of him….
….held together by the quiet gathering of words.
The words were visible.
They dropped from his mouth like jewels.
As the book quivered in her lap, the secret sat in her mouth.
It made itself comfortable.
It crossed its legs.
Her blood loudened.
The sentences blurred.
She couldn’t tell exactly where the words came from.
They arrived and kneeled next to the bed.
The soft-spoken words fell off the side of the bed,
emptying onto the floor like powder.
No, it’s not a poem but it could easily be one. This book is like a long, long poem about a little girl and her love for stories. In a world turned upside down during the Second World War in Germany, there were few other things that could offer comfort. Food was scarce and suffering aplenty. Death was telling a story while taking souls away. I guess you could say he was giving something back to the world: a story, Liesel Meminger’s story. The book thief.
The book begins with a death. This is, after all, how the narrator got in. Liesel is a little girl whose family broke apart during the war. Taken away from her mother, she was given into the care of a foster family who lived in the city of Molching, on Himmel Street. She began to love them, Mama and Papa, she of the loud mouth and cursing words, and he, whose music and gentle ways brought back hope into her heart. She began to make friends: Rudy – the boy with “hair the color of lemons” who becomes her constant companion and best friend, Max – the fist-fighting Jew who had visions of defeating the Fuhrer in a boxing match, and the mayor’s wife, whose grief was pierced by the little girl who hungered for words so badly she began to steal her books. One at a time.
A small note: Himmel means Heaven.
Ironic, isn’t it, when there was so much suffering. But there was also joy, for the words from Liesel’s stolen books held the people together during times of grief, of hiding, and during those dark slowly moving hours of air raids, when nobody knew if they were going to leave the shelter alive or die a crowded cold death.
As I was moving on with the story, I felt like this was not exactly someone’s story, not Death’s story, or Liesel’s, but an ode to books and the worlds inside them. I remember Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read about burning books and not think about this particular one – and how little it takes to create an entire universe with a pencil, some sheets of paper and a bit of imagination. I love books that make me cry and this was one of them. It happened several times. I couldn’t help it. Especially when I got to that story in the middle – a story within a story. There were actually two, and one was an autobiography, the other was about the Fuhrer, and a friendship. The drawings were pretty good, too.
The writing is beautiful and delicate and heartbreaking. It flows and binds itself around you, squeezing your heart. The little “poem” at the beginning of this review is but a tiny fraction of what it looks like. The rest is even better. Cruelty, suffering, friendship, love, bound together in words – found in the books Liesel steals and reads but also in the ones she and Max eventually write, because that’s what happens when you take so many words in – sometimes they spill out.
I got this book from a friend at a book club. I had wanted to read it for a long time. And then she came and said five magic words: I’ll lend it to you. Now that I’ve finished, I’ll have to give it back. But I will buy my own copy because I would very much like to read about Liesel again someday, even if the words won’t be new. Sometimes, some books are even better the second time around. I can’t wait to find out.
Another small note: the movie is coming out next month.
*Read in October, 2013