Book Thief Steals Heart

Lindsay Wilson, Lifestyle Editor

The international bestselling novel The Book Thief hit the silver screen on November 8.

Many admirers of the Book Thief feared that the movie would not do their beloved novel justice due to the complexity of the plot. As a fan of the novel, I, too, was hesitant for fear that my image of the compelling tale might be marred.

However, in contrast with criticism from Rotten Tomatoes, I believe the movie satisfied its audience, depicting the story accurately and delivering the message meaningfully.

The Book Thief is narrated from the perspective of Death, as he collects human souls from the aftermath of World War II, remorseful in the despair and physical and emotional deprivation of the era.

While wandering through Europe during this time of chaotic destruction, surrounded by millions of suffering people, he is mesmerized by a single human, a young German girl named Liesel Meminger. From an early age, Liesel fascinates Death. Although she is always close to him, as many of her loved ones pass away early in her life, Liesel’s soul always escapes Death’s grasp.

Set in Nazi-era Germany, specifically a street named Himmel, ironically translated into English as “Heaven,” five years of Liesel’s childhood is shared with the audience. Liesel comes to Himmel Street when she is ten years old. Recently abandoned by her mother and grieving from her younger brother’s death, Liesel is distraught when she comes to her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Over time, though, she comes to love her newfound parents, especially her Papa.

Liesel becomes best friends with a young boy with “hair the color of lemons,” Rudy Steiner.

Liesel grows up in this small town amongst the angst of World War II. Illiterate at the age of ten, she quickly learns to read, developing an a passion for books. Ironically, the first book Liesel completes is the The Gravedigger’s Handbook, the first book she ever stole.

Then Max Vandenberg, a Jew escaping from the Nazis, appears. On Kristallnacht, Max escapes from his home and flees to the Hubermans. Hans takes him in because he promises the boy’s father to help his family in its time of need. Max lives in the Huberman’s basement for more than 2 years. During this period, Max and Liesel form a strong bond, as both love to read, have lost members of their family, and are forced to grow up in a chaotic, incoherent world.

Max eventually leaves his safe haven for fear of endangering the Hubermans. Liesel is devastated.

Death narrates, describing both Liesel’s life and her affinity for stealing books. She becomes friends with the mayor’s wife, who allows Liesel to make use of her large, personal library. When prevented from entering the library by the mayor, Liesel sneaks into their house and steals books.

Books become Liesel’s escape from the sadness of despair of her situation, and, over time, she develops a passion for writing. Before leaving, Max implores her to continue reading and writing, promising that he will always be close to her because he will live in her words.

The movie focuses on Liesel’s life, beginning with her arrival in the small town and ending with the destruction of Himmel Street. Liesel is one of the few survivors, losing her foster parents and her greatest friend. But, a year or so later, Max comes back to the small town to see Liesel, bringing the story full circle.

The ending consists of Death describing Liesel’s life. He notes how despite the great happiness she finds, becoming a successful author and having a wonderful family, she never forgets the Hubermanns and Rudy. They are always with her, immortal in her words.

Having read the book, I thought that Rudy’s, Hans’, Max’s, and Rosa’s actors were accurate in representing their characters. I think that people could really get a feel for the distress and anguish felt by characters during this turbulent time. Many a tear was shed by audience members, especially during the aftermath of the bombing on Himmel Street, where Rudy dies in Liesel’s arms, passing without receiving his long-yearned for kiss.

I am not a movie lover. Going to the movies is a rare event for me. But, I believe that The Book Thief was worth the time. It was an accurate representation of the novel, handling the difficult narration well and encompassing many of the main themes. The Book Theif was one of the few book-to-movie adaptations I have actually enjoyed watching.