This is another fictionalized account of something that could have happened during the Holocaust. The main character is Death and s/he arrives at various intervals to take someone away. But this person also lingers and tells us of some of what else is happening. “I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling amongst the jigsaw puzzle of realisation, despair and surprise. They have punctured their hearts,” says death. The story s/he tells is of:
- “A girl
- Some words
- An accordionist
- Some fanatical Germans
- A Jewish fist-fighter
- And quite a lot of thievery.”
The girl, Liesel Meminger, is the book thief. Her mother, unable to look after her, leaves her in the care of the accordionist. Liesel steals three books and reads a lot of words. Zusak writes a lot of words. The fanatical Germans are as fanatical here as they are in any other literature, factual or fictional, and the Jew Liesel and her family protect is a fist-fighter. Many of the characters steal in order to survive.
Zusak was not there at the time. He has had to use imagination in order to work out how it was then. He has used his writerly method-acting to create the persona of Death. We get close to Liesel, too, and learn of her encounters with communist, fascists, Nazis, and Jesse Owens. Zusak gives us a strong hint of how life was there and then by putting us amongst the people who lived that life.
The voice is strong and unusual in this novel. The layout too is quite different. All of this brings our attention more closely to this so important story.