Black and White and Read All Over
What is there to like?
• It’s a story about the importance of telling and reading stories. Liesel and Max Vandenburg use reading to get themselves through their darker days, Liesel and her foster father read together, Liesel and the mayor’s wife come together through a mutual love of books, Liesel reads to the townspeople as they huddle together during the bomb raids. Perhaps especially important in stories about war and The Holocaust—events which, more than so many other things, call for two of storytelling's most important functions: memory and empathy.
• Rudy Steiner, Rudy Steiner, Rudy Steiner.
Liesel’s best friend and partner in troublemaking, brave boy, full of light. The tragedy of a young boy’s death in war is something easily acknowledged, but the fact of it—robbing him, Liesel, the world of his bright, bright future—wouldn’t hurt so deeply if Rudy weren’t someone to love so completely. Heartbreaking.
• Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster father: a kind man who keeps his promises and doesn’t know what to do in the face of the tidal wave of Nazi Germany and the war. Again, heartbreaking as a symbol of the real-life men and women of Germany in the 1930s/40s.
• Not everybody in the town is a nice person, in the normal way that not everyone is nice. This is important to show—war doesn’t care how nice people are.
• Some standout poetic sentences and imaginative descriptions throughout.
• The narration by Death offers the opportunity for some interesting reflections and poignant moments of death in wartime and in peace.
What's not to like?
• Extremely irritating stylistic choice of what other reviewers have called interjections. I might call them interruptions. Whatever they are, they feel extremely gimmicky—except it’s not clear what this gimmick is supposed to accomplish, which makes it all the more puzzling and intrusive.
• It is difficult to care, particularly, about Liesel—this must be the main problem with the book. The narrative is somewhat patchwork, containing many vignettes that occur either during or prior to Liesel’s own timeline, many of which are beautiful or sad or true-seeming. However, Liesel feels like little more than a catalyst for all the interesting things that happen all around her. As the titular character, the book thief should be the one the readers are most invested in, but it seems impossible to get a sense of who she really is—which is thrown into even sharper relief by the captivating personalities of Rudy Steiner, Hans Hubermann, and other townspeople. As a result, the book is missing a heart, which made it difficult for me to love it.
What made me pick it up?
The title; seemingly universal praise; it was continuously on the bestseller list since long before I even paid any attention to bestseller lists.
Other books to try:
The Berlin Boxing Club
Number the Stars
Code Name Verity
Overall recommendation: Recommended.