I’m not sure how widely publicised it is where you are, but here it is hardly mentioned that this week (February 26th to be exact) the new film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s Book Thief is to be released. It is pretty low profile here in the UK as far as I understand but then we don’t have a TV in our house and we don’t go to the cinema that often. Also, I’ve killed my Facebook account (and discovered there is so much more to life) so I suppose that in terms of social media I’m pretty much out of the loop. The point being that this new film is coming out and I would like to highly recommend the story. I don’t usually do this but, to be fair, this is one of my favourite novels.
Ironically, the first copy I was given was actually stolen. I leant it to I forget who and it never came back. My mother found it funny but I was a touch put out for a while before I could see the humour of it.
I can’t vouch for the film as I haven’t yet seen it but please be sure to read the original novel (before or after the film is entirely down to yourself). The story follows a young girl called Liesel Memminger, growing up in WW2 Munich. It’s a very touching story about her and her childhood on Himmel Street with her hard-up foster parents, a pain of a best friend, and a Jewish fist-fighter living in their basement. The title itself is one given to Liesel by the narrator (more on him in a moment) as she steals her first book before she can even read. It’s a moving story and you very much feel every hardship and heartbreak that the characters go through but you also share naturally in their laughter and their triumphs. I have two favourite little pieces (fear not, no spoilers) which show this. The first is when Liesel’s best friend (in the middle of Nazi Germany) paints himself black with charcoal and runs the hundred metres at the local park because he is obsessed with Jesse Owens. The second is that Max Vandenburg, the Jew, keeps himself fit while in the basement by having imaginary boxing matches with Hitler. It is a funny but sad portrait of one man’s attempt to stay sane and to somehow deal with his anger and pain.
The whole book is endearing in the way that it limps boldly through the war, following these people as they try to live normal lives amidst the chaos. And yet, unlike a lot of war stories (at least those that I have read) it brings out the absurdities and trivial joys of life that we could never live without. The strange thing about the novel, and the thing which puts most people off, is that it is actually narrated by Death. A friend I leant the book to (my new copy) didn’t like it. He said that it was strange and ridiculous to have a story told by Death. But ‘even death has a heart.’ He didn’t like the style either as a lot of the description comes across as quite synaesthetic. It isn’t difficult to understand, it’s just not the way most people look at the world. That in itself is refreshing.
Several Christian friends have asked whether I should be reading something which is narrated by such an uncouth character but I’d just like to say that he is quite amicable and funny but not flippant. Who better to tell a story about war than someone who was such a presence at the time? It is really down to personal preference, there is nothing very unwholesome in the book, though there is a little swearing and lot of calling people pigs in German. Even if the film doesn’t measure up to the book itself (the very style of writing itself would indicate this) it’s not going to be a big deal. At worst it will be an excellent but tear-jerking feel-good movie and at best a masterpiece.
So we look forward to the movie but I also recommend the book (and request that it won’t be ruined by internet obsession like Lord of the Rings or Sherlock were) and leave you with my favourite quote and the trailer for the new release.
He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.
She was the book thief without the words.
Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.
Oh and also:
Often I wish this would be all over, Liesel, but then, somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands.