Year Published: 2005
"First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try."
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Set in Nazi Germany during the throes of World War II, it tells the story of Liesel--the book thief--who is taken in by foster parents after her brother dies en route to the town and her mother goes into hiding. The narrator is death itself--something I found unnerving in the beginning but became comfortable with within the first 20 pages. He chronicles Liesel's life, including her exploits with her best friend Rudy, (which reminds me vaguely of those of the children in To Kill a Mockingbird), her stealing books from the mayor's benevolent but broken wife, the trials of her neighbors due to the ravages of war, and even-especially--her foster family harboring a Jew in their basement. The characters are painfully real and the story is woven beautifully, with poetic imagery and death's interspersed interjections.
Though tragically sad, this book is a testament to humanity and human kindness. In a time of horrible evil, small acts of tenderness seem immense. The most heartbreaking moment for me was when the Jews were being marched through the town, staggering and pitiful, as the townspeople watch silently. Finally Liesel's foster father can't stand watching a man--a Jew--struggle and fall and struggle again, and he goes over and gives him a piece of bread. He is whipped and scorned for this act of kindness, and he punishes himself after as well, for breaking down and giving in to his own humanity, thereby putting his own family and friends at risk. I'm not sure that I could have survived in a context where one's ability to care for one's fellow humans was a liability.
Such a great book. So worth reading. I'm sure I'll stop weeping eventually.
Date Read: 9/28/09
Book a week # 42