This book was given to me as a present. It was very easy to read and I got into it very quickly. It ensured my attention from the first few pages, even if the narrative style took a little getting used to and was not without inviting several questions...why is the story told by Death and why is he so jolly when it was probably one of his more exhausting periods, during Nazi Germany during the Second World War? The answers came during the unfolding of the story.
Death tells us the story of Liesel, a little girl of 9 years old, being taken with her brother to a foster home. Their parents are accused of being communists in a Germany with little political tolerance. They are also poor, and on the journey with their mother, Liesel's brother dies. This is Death's first encounter with a girl whose book he will later read and recount to us. Liesel's life is transferred to her foster home, new parents, new friends, and a new political climate that will affect them all.
The writing is quirky, with amazingly inventive descriptions, a bizarre speech tone full of asides that conveys an 'other worldliness' suitable for Death, but also a child like quality which links us to the children and more particularly Liesel, as we take part in her world and point of view. There is a lot of love in the story, warmth and decency, amongst a dangerous Germany that seems hell bent on stamping out all of these things. We are all used to second world war stories where the Germans are our enemies, but in this book it is not the Allies against the Germans, but normal, decent human beings against the Nazi's, the ordinary v's those in power.
Once I got used to the style of writing, the cheeriness despite the background, I realised I had become quite attatched to the main characters, to Liesel and her street urchin friend Rudy and their many adventures, and her foster parents, her rough love mama, and a papa who is kindness itself. By the time Max, the Jewish fugitive is introduced, the book had tightened its grip on me and I was helpless as it squeezed tighter. There were times, the tension being built up slowly, when I was desperate to read what was happening but dreaded continuing. I knew every empathetic button was being pressed and that at some point it was going to cause me damage. Do not get me wrong, the majority of the book is full of humour, light hearted childrens accounts of getting into trouble and creating havoc. Also in observing adults and forging friendships, however unlikely. But amongst this the book cleverly alludes to something big and terrible to come, to break the blow and keep you reading. You are always aware that this is Nazi Germany and life is far from innocent.
When the blow came I broke my heart. I don't think I have read a book that upset me so much for a long time. I must have sobbed for an hour! It shook me in the best way a book can, mercilessly making me feel every emotion. As water flowed out of my face I re-read parts of the book and I am still enjoying doing that.
This book is well written, and provides an alternative slant on the Nazi war story. It is warm and full of the joy of human spirit. It illustrates that even when life is at its most awful there are stories of courage and kindness that outweigh the bad. There are also books that have the ability to move us, and it is the impact of this novel that made it wonderful to read even when it hurt. I would urge anyone to read it, and my copy is already in the hands of one of many borrowers.
If you would like to read more about the book and its author, the following website is useful...