This film is blessed with a wonderfully talented cast who make the viewer believe that the story actually happened. It is based on the novel by Markus Zusak, published in 2005. Our Book Club discussed the book at that time, and the film made this story come alive for me.
The setting is Nazi Germany in the year 1938. The main character, Liesel Meminger, (portrayed by a young Canadian actress, Sophie Nelisse) is sent to live with a kind German family when her mother is accused of being a Communist. Liesel had never learned to read and is humiliated at school for that reason. Her lone ally is a young neighbor, Rudy Steiner, who follows her about, and they become friends.
Liesel’s foster mother, Rosa (Emily Watson) does the laundry of the mayor’s wife and Liesel must carry the clothing back and forth between the two homes. Liesel is fearful as the mayor’s wife witnessed Liesel taking a book from a burned pile of banned books, which the Fuehrer Adolph Hitler had ordered. Instead, the mayor’s wife allowed Liesel to spend time in her private library which she had built in memory of her son who had died. When the mayor discovered what they were doing, he forbade Liesel to come again, and Liesel’s foster mother lost her only means of making money.
Liesel’s foster father Hans (Geoffrey Rush) set up a classroom in their basement with words written in chalk on the walls, so that he and Liesel might learn to read together. Soon the household expanded by one when Hans found it necessary to hide a young Jewish boy, Max (Ben Schnetzer), whose father had saved Hans’ life in World War I. Max initially stayed in Liesel’s room where he recuperated while she read to him from the only book she had – called “The Gravedigger’s Handbook” which she had retrieved at a cemetery when her brother had died early on. Liesel continued to steal into the mayor’s house where she secretly borrowed books, but always returned them.
The infamous night known historically as Kristallnacht,” or “the night of broken glass,” is re-enacted here, and Max chooses to leave the household rather than put his friends in danger for harboring a Jew. Also, Rudy has guessed that Liesel’s family is hiding someone in their basement, but he swears that he will never give them away.
We are left wondering whether Liesel and Max were ever reunited. The final credits tell us that Liesel moved to Australia with her husband and children, but did not elucidate about who her husband was.
There are many stories about Nazi Germany in World War II, and we can never read too much about that inglorious time. Having lived through the Second World War, I remain completely captivated about that time in our world’s history.
The Book Thief (2013)