The Book thief is an American-German movie directed by Brian Percival. This movie is based on the novel of the same name by Marcus Zusak. Based on the backdrop of World War 2, it gives us a glimpse of the condition of Nazi Germany through the eyes of eleven-year-old Liesel Meminger. The most remarkable thing about this book is that its narration has been done by “death”, which has been personified as an entity. This vivid concept in itself reflects the authenticity of the movie.
After her communist parents are sent to concentration camps by the Government, Liesel starts living her life with her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. On her way to her foster parents’ home, her younger brother dies and is buried by the railway tracks. During the funeral, “The gravedigger’s handbook” falls off the grave digger’s pocket and Liesel steals it. This is Liesel’s fist ever act of thievery.
Initially loathing her new life in the Hammel Street, she goes to school and helps her foster-mother in her housework reluctantly. Her first day at school turns into a nightmare because she did not know English and is ridiculed amongst her fellow classmates for it. After that incident, she starts learning English from her foster-father in the basement of their little house. Liesel grows to love her foster parents and recognizing the wonderful human beings they are, despite living in poverty.
Liesel befriends her neighbor Rudy and starts getting acquainted with her school as well. Soon, Liesel and Rudy reluctantly become members of the Hitler Youth movement like every youth in Germany was supposed to be. While at a Nazi book burning ceremony, Liesel and Rudy are compelled to throw into the bonfire by the leader, but deep inside Liesel is distraught to see the books being burned. As the bonfire ends and everyone leaves Liesel grabs a book which was only slightly burnt. This is her second act of thievery. She is spotted by Ilsa Hermann, wife of the mayor of the little town.
Liesel and Rudy become best friends and their lives become unimaginable without each other. Their naïve friendship and truthfulness are depicted beautifully in the movie.
Liesel starts reading with her foster-father, every night. She falls ardently in love with words and contemplates the immense power of words. The ravages inflicted upon her life by her fate compel Liesel to grow far beyond her age. She observes the excruciating suffering of Jewish people and grows to hate Hitler.
Later, when Rosa asks Liesel to take the laundry to the mayor’s house, she realizes that the woman who saw her taking the book is the mayor’s wife. Instead of admonishing her, Ilsa takes her into their library and tells Liesel she can come by anytime and read as much as she’d like. One day Liesel is spotted reading in the library by the mayor and he puts a stop to her visits and dismisses Rosa as their laundress. This anger leads Liesel to steal her third book from Ilsa Hermann’s library; her third steal.
This movie also focuses on complex characters like Max whose fate is entwined with Liesel’s, through whom we see the indignities suffered by Jewish people. Later at the end of the movie, when bombings start over the little town, everyone in the city is killed with the exception of Liesel who was saved because of spending the night in her basement. Yet, Liesel goes on, starting a new life and later it is depicted that she grows up to be an author. The movie is exceedingly painful and throws light on the harsh realities of the Hitler reign, yet ends on an optimistic note.
And death ends the movie by saying, ”I am haunted by humans”.
The movie has won several awards and recognition and rightly so. It is a beautiful movie with a flawless portrayal of characters by brilliant actors. It is a must watch for all historical fiction lovers!