The Book Thief by Markus Zusak tells the haunting story of the titular character, Liesel Meminger, a ten year old girl growing up in Nazi Germany. After her brother dies and her Communist mother leaves her with the foster care system, Liesel feels alone in her new home with the Hubermanns. Before long, she begins to make new friends and finds comfort in learning how to read from stolen books. Seven years after its original publication in 2006, this critically-acclaimed young adult novel is now a major motion picture.
Narrated by Death, who proves to be loquacious and charismatic, the reader is shown many snippets of Liesel’s life, and of those surrounding her. Zusak artfully evokes the emotions of Nazi Germany, especially those of more reluctant residents like some of the Hitler Youth, who don’t understand the hatred being taught. The author also populates his story with a wide range of colorful characters like Hans and Rosa, Liesel’s foster parents; the next door neighbor Rudy, who harbors a crush on Liesel; and Max, all of whom are portrayed very faithfully in the film.
In the book, the story’s events unfold with little regard for a linear timeline. The author often fast-forwards and summarizes a future event before returning to the past or present in order to provide a fuller explanation of a given circumstance. The movie adaptation, however, presents the audience with a smoother narrative without the many, arresting asides that frequent the novel’s pages.
The transitions are not the only differences. As with most book to film adaptations, some details and back-stories are glossed over or in other cases, completely eliminated. Despite this fact, the screenwriter and director do not sacrifice any of the novel’s essence.
Based loosely on the author’s grandparents’ and parents’ experiences during the Holocaust, The Book Thief presents the audience with a powerful image of how everyone on Himmel street, both Jews and non-Jews, were impacted by the Nazi regime.