The Book Thief: One of the most unique perspectives on World War II Germany and the Holocaust, The Book Thief has for its narrator a most unlikely voice. Death, who is haunted by humans, speaks of one girl who captures his attention: Liesel Meminger. Liesel is first seen by Death when he comes to collect the soul of her little brother. She steals The Grave Digger’s Handbook at the side of her brother’s modest grave, despite the fact that she can’t read a word; Death is captivated. He visits her from time to time, and through his eyes we learn her story. Liesel lost her brother en route to her foster parents where she finally learns to read and amass her own clandestine library. Rudy, a neighborhood friend who loves to run, becomes her accomplice; and a city official’s wife her supplier. Death also shares a perspective on the war and the Holocaust that is both poignant and scathing. The reader, like Death, becomes immersed in Liesel’s life, struggles with her family through the painful choices the war forces upon them, and triumphs in their defiance of Hitler by taking in Max, a young Jewish man. This last, lone decision changes the lives of Liesel and her foster family forever.
The Book Thief generates many discussions about Justice and Injustice in the obvious places– such as the racism of Nazi Germany and the degradation annihilation of the Jews—but also in more subtle areas like how people treat each other in times of war, fear, and suspicion. Groups also discussed Agape and Phileo love in the relationships between Liesel, her foster parents, Rudy, Max and the Mayor’s wife. Prudence and Temperance are easy to discuss through Rudy, whose life is full of imprudent reactions and choices; Liesel, who risks much to steal her books; and Papa, whose impulsive actions put the whole family in jeopardy. Fortitude is also a major theme in this book, as many characters use considerable courage to live out the difficult choices they make.
The Book Thief is a deep and moving book. It causes us to take a long hard look at what really is the root of hatred and prejudice. We found Death’s perspective on human cruelty and hatred to be very personal, and it really made us look at who we are, and the actions we take every day. We also had the chance to discuss our life regrets, and the way we should love the people around us. We also marveled at the courage many people in Nazi Germany exhibited every day, and attempted to learn what it would take for us to live with the same courage and self-sacrifice.