The Book Thief
Sajit M Mathews
Liesel, the protagonist is introduced to the audience by Death (personified in voice). Liesel appears on screen noticing the death of her young brother. Soon she would lose her communist mother to NAZIs. She reaches her new parents’ home on Heaven Street (a paradox). They adopted her not only because of Hitler’s law, but also for the little allowance that it brought along. They were poor painters and did not have work those years. Her new father Hans Hubermann instantly reveals his lovely nature calling her ‘your majesty’ while her new mother Rosa Hubermann as always hides behind her rough husk and rumbles on. Liesel soon adjusts and begins to live happily at her new home. She learns many things there. She learns that her mother was a Communist and would never see her again. She also learns that Hitler takes communists and Jews away to unknown places.
In the grave dryness of Heaven Street, she finds Rudy Steiner, a friend. They speak, play and learn about each other. For Liesel, Rudy becomes a genuine friend to bank upon in the course of the story. We learn that she is unlettered from the first day at school. Along with Franz Deutscher we also find out that Leizel Meminger is not a sugar doll, but that her fists can deliver powerful punches.
Inside her home she goes back to memories of her mother and brother. She holds on the undertaker’s manual that she found at her brother’s burial. Hans grows very fond of her and helps her to learn to read the undertaker’s manual. He being a painter also makes her tablets on the wall where she could write new words that she learned- a dictionary of her own. Liesel learns new words and widens her inner world even as the world outside rushed into an unequal war under Hitler’s insane egotism. In Liesel we find a ray of sunshine- the promise of a better generation with a humane heart.
|Liesel with Max|
As the octopus hands of NAZIs reach inside houses for racial cleansing, Max is forced to leave his mother and go in hiding (which he regrets ever after). Later Max will turn up at Hubermann’s house one night seeking refuge. The Hubermann family which is infinitely indebted to Max’s father takes hides him in their basement. For Liesel Max’s presence is her little secret and a great relief at the same time. Max as a wonderful young man who loves everything around him teaches Liesel the art of seeing. He tells her that Jews believe in the secrets of words. Everyday Max would ask Liesel for a weather report. Liesel would give a picturesque description of what she sees. Without her knowledge she becomes a wonderful writer and story teller capable of wooing others with her words. By the time Max leaves the Hubermanns’ home Liesel becomes a brave young woman of character despite her age.
Life as a phenomenon is depicted as a process of meaning making in this film. While enemy planes carpet bomb them, they have a defined enemy. But when their own government sends agents to raid their homes and takes them away to concentration camps, the paradox of rule and anarchy stares at their faces. One who has not experienced the insecurity and cruelties of wars may not be able to understand the lives of those people who lived it. It would have been some challenge to be able to happy during those times. The happiness of Hans Hubermann in this tumult is a wonderful thing thus. He teaches his Liesel to be happy like him.
Probably it is the enthusiasm and joy of Liesel that gave Liesel courage to get into the NAZI commander’s house to steal books. In her own words, she doesn’t steal, but only borrows them. Still the gravity of her act is immensely huge and could lose her life for it. But she continues to ‘borrow’ books from the commander’s house for Max. She liked Max dearly and wanted to keep him alive. The only way she thought she could do so was by reading to him. Max had told her that word is life. After days when Max comes back to normal life, he acknowledges that it was her reading that brought him back to life.
Interestingly the title of the film brings us back to the ‘boy whose hair remained lemon colour’- Rudy Steiner. He is a bright boy chosen for Hitler’s elite training. But for him, life is about simpler things- love, parents, relationships, soccer, etc. It is important to note that the simplicity of life on Heaven street is often interrupted by bombs and ideology- both dangerous. Rudy shared secrets with Liesel. He knew Hubermanns were hiding a Jew. But he kept it a secret because the young boy knew that his relationship with Liesel was more important than anything else. Friendship comes naturally to him- he didn’t have to make extra efforts. He wanted Liesel’s kiss from the very first day they met. He asked for it later too. But death didn’t allow him to flower. After the deathly air raid on Heaven street when he was taken out of the debris, Liesel runs to his side. He begins to say he loves her, but death steals him away from her. Like Hans Hubermann always told Liesel, ‘may be it had to be so’.
She becomes the book thief to save Max’s life. She did so. But she lost everyone else she loved. Parents, step parents, brother, Rudy… The list remains unfilled. The narrator tells us that Liesel lived 90 years happily making others happy. That is what is important. That is what she learned from the Heaven street- that life goes on despite death. That life is hidden in the secret of words.
Director: Brian Percival
Original Novel written by: Markus Zusak
Adaptation: Michael Petroni
Roger Allam: Narrator / Death (voice)
Sophie Nélisse: Liesel Meminger
Geoffrey Rush: Hans Hubermann
Emily Watson: Rosa Hubermann
Nico Liersch: Rudy Steiner
Ben Schnetzer: Max Vandenburg