Back in November, I had a week off work and I took my time choosing a new novel to read. I knew I wanted something with some strong characters and a compelling plot, which I could happily lose myself in for a few hours at a time. So, what did I choose? Answer: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I did not know a great deal about the novel before reading it, but it had been recommended to me, and I also knew that it had been a huge hit a few back, when it was first published.

What little I did know about the book was largely what I learnt from the book’s cover: namely that it was set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death. Not the most promising sounding book for a little holiday reading, you might think, yet within the first few pages I was totally hooked and pleased with my choice.

The main character is Liesel Meminger, who at the beginning of the tale is ten years old. We learnt that her father abandoned them and that her mother was forced to give her up. Hence at the start of the tale, we find a very distressed Liesel arriving at the house of her new foster parents: Hans and Rosa Hubermann. The Hubermanns are both great characters: Hans being a painter by trade, an accordion player by night, and as kind and as soft-hearted a man as you are likely to find anywhere. Hans’ wife Rosa, by contrast, is a feisty, ill tempered woman, who cooks great steaming vats of pea soup, swears like a trooper, but also loves her foster daughter, in her own special way.

I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.

Then there is Leisel’s neighbour and best friend Rudy Steiner, the ever hungry yet ever happy boy with whom she has many adventures, including year-round football games, apple scrumping, and, significantly, book thieving.

Another major character, and key plot-line involves Max Vandenburg, a fist fighting Jew who ends up hiding in the Hubermann’s basement. However, I shall not say any more about Max, Rudy, Hans, Rosa, Leisel, nor Death himself, as I would hate to give too much away. So, if you want to find out more, you will simply have to read it yourself!

I hugely enjoyed The Book Thief, and raced through its 550-odd pages. Although the novel is set in Nazi Germany, and therefore necessarily shrouded in sadness and brutality, it also contains some moments of beauty and even humour, and is ultimately very life affirming.

A truly entertaining and memorable read, which I highly recommend.

Sat at my favourite local cafe, reading 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak

Reading it in your favourite cafe with a pot of tea and a flapjack, also highly recommended!

Even death has a heart.

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