Posted by: Kristen Hicks | July 21, 2012

On The Book Thief

The Book Thief is an especially rich novel, full of images and symbols that all play into novel’s great ode to the power of words and books, especially in our world’s darkest moments. One of the greatest images the book provides in support of that theme is a homemade book laboriously produced by a jew living in a cold cellar during Nazi Germany.

In a society at war, all resources are valuable and rare, especially for a family having to stretch all they have that much further to support an extra, hidden man. It is in this context, made more emotionally poignant by the scarcity and considerable effort the gift requires, that Max paints over each page of an issue of Mein Kampf, one by one, in order to turn those pages into his own story to give to the little girl that’s filled his otherwise painful, empty days with stories and affection.

“Each page was gently stripped from the book and laid out on the floor to receive a coat of paint…When Liesel came home one day after school, she found Max, Rosa and her papa all painting the various pages…As she started painting, Liesel thought about Max Vandenburg fighting the Fuhrer.”

The novel emphasizes again and again how powerful all words are, how the ability to read and write brings with it so much more access to knowledge and power.  The best tool the book finds for the powerful representation of this theme is the symbol of Adolf Hitler’s book–filled with the words that inspired wars and mass murder–being overtaken by a story used by one of the oppressed to deepen his relationship with a young girl fascinated and enthused by words. It’s an idea that takes the form of an imagined boxing match between Max and Hitler elsewhere in the story, the fight over whose words will gain the edge and come to have greater power. For just a little while, in Liesel’s life, Max is the victor of that match.

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