This book was a gift from my friend Kristin. I visited her in Germany last September, and as we were walking throughout the picturesque streets of Frieberg I found myself struggling with the same sequence of thoughts I had struggled with during my previous (and first) trip to Germany in 1996. The sequence goes something like this: 1) As I am walking along I see an elderly person, somewhere in their 80s or 90s. 2) I think, "Damn, they're old! I wonder how old they are?" 3) Then I think, "If they're 85, that means they were in their 20s during WWII." And then I jump straight to 4) "I wonder if they were Nazis during the war...did they fight? Did they collaborate? Did they resist? What did they DO (or not do)?" And then I feel somewhat guilty for having those thoughts until I see the next elderly person and think them all over again...I can't seem to help myself. I shared this with Kristin at one point, and she told me to read "The Book Thief". "It will change the way you think about many of the Germans who lived through the war," she said. And then she bought it for me for Christmas.
The Book Thief is the story of Liesel, a skinny, hungry, and illiterate girl who is taken to live with the Hubermann's, a foster family in a small town close to Munich in 1939. The story follows Liesel through the war as she and her foster family resist the Nazis in the small ways that they can on the surface (such as Hans Hubermann refusing to join the Nazi party and paying the social price for it), and the big ways hidden below the surface (such as hiding a Jewish man in their basement).
I absolutely loved this book. In fact, it goes into my top 10. Part of the reason is because I haven't ever read anything like it. It is written in a unique style, but unlike other books that have dealt with serious subject matter by taking a unique approach to story telling which I hated because I felt they were so contrived (i.e. The History of Love or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), there is no posturing with the writing in the Book Thief, and instead I found myself wanting to dive deeper into the story with every page that I read.
I realized very quickly why Kristin had recommended this story to me -- it is a partial answer to the question I was asking when I walked the streets of Frieberg in September -- it is the story of what people who were not Jewish and not fighting DID during the war. And it is told without judgment, but instead through writing and imagery that is honest, touching, and beautiful to read.
MY RATING: 10/10