“I am not violent. I am not malicious. I am a result.” – Death
It’s not often that we can find light in a period as dark as the Holocaust. But The Book Thief by Markus Zusak attempts this with flair. The novel follows Liesel Meminger and her story that unfolds in the fictional town of Molching near Munich in Nazi Germany. All of nine, Liesel travels to Molching with her mother and her little brother Werner, to be given up as a foster child. Even before they reach the town, Werner dies and a devastated Liesel is handed over to the Hubermanns for adoption. From there on, the story takes the reader through Liesel’s daily life, as she tries to adapt to her new home with her foster parents.
Liesel finds a loyal friend and partner-in-crime in Rudy Steiner, her schoolmate. He’s her saukerl (boy pig), and she’s his saumensch (girl pig). Together, they steal various things—books included—every now and then, and thoroughly enjoy it as it’s the only act they have control over in their otherwise war-ridden lives. Having seen proof of the power of words (‘Heil Hitler!’, ‘communist’, ‘Jew’), Liesel yearns to read more and her foster father Hans willingly obliges to teach her. He even sits by her bed every night, when she suffers from nightmares. On the other hand, her foster mother Rosa is quite typical of foster mothers represented in literature—rather gruff and foul-mouthed. However, the woman does care for Liesel.
Through Liesel’s story, the novel seeks to shed light on the sad plight of both the attacker and the attacked, the Germans and the Jews and the army and civilians, blurring the very definition of an antagonist. The author sketches a holistic perspective of all the characters and therein emphasises that not all Germans supported the Nazi propaganda of ridding the world of Jews.