Marcus Zuzak’s World War Two tearjerker was one of my favourite books that I read last year and I was both excited and nervous for the release of the film adaptation. It’s such a beautiful, heart-breaking story that I wasn’t sure how well it would translate to screen and whether the emotion would really carry over in the same way that it does in the book.
Set in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the story follows the tragic tale of Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) who is travelling by train with her mother and younger brother who dies on the journey. Burying the boy at the side of the road, Liesel picks up The Gravedigger’s Handbook which she finds on her brother’s grave. Liesel’s mother is a communist and due to the growing conflict, Liesel is placed in the care of Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa Hubermann (Emily Watson). Befriending a local boy of her own age Rudy Steiner, Liesel lives a simple life. Her stepfather Hans teaches her to read with The Gravedigger’s Handbook, which leads to Liesel’s long-time obsession with reading. When there is a mass book burning at the command of the Nazis, Liesel retrieves a book which is witnessed by the Major’s wife. Hans and Rosa are meanwhile hiding a Jewish boy Max in their basement and Liesel becomes close friends with him. When Rosa asks Liesel to deliver laundry to the Major’s house, his wife invites her into their library and tells her to read whenever she wants. However, the war brings troubled times to the community and the ending is one that you’ll remember forever.
Both the film and the book are narrated by Death -a voice who never makes a physical appearance but is a constant dark presence. Having him interject every so often brings you back out of Liesel’s sweet simple life and reminds you of the reality of the time. No matter how safe and happy life may seem, Death is always there during war time. The severity of the country’s situation is shown so many times and you can’t help but wonder how different things would be if the war weren’t going on. Every single death in the film is shocking and simply heartbreaking, so that you leave the cinema feeling utterly drained of emotion.
As a reader, I really connected with Liesel and as a result, my heart was in my mouth for a lot of the film. Although I had read the book, Sophie Nelisse was the perfect Liesel and the character really came to life in front of my eyes. Her friendship with Rudy is a beautiful touch that keeps in mind the innocence of children in such a dark time. The tragic ending and the final words from Death are so haunting and I’m so glad that Zuzak’s wonderful story wasn’t messed with too much.
It is one of a rare breed -a very good book-to-film adaptation. The Book Thief is a story that so many people love and are deeply affected by, so it was important that the film was done well. The casting was perfect and every important aspect of the book was included. Creating an authentic World War Two setting is something is seen a lot but rarely from the point of view of a bookish little girl trapped in the terrible world she has found herself in. If you love emotional, dramatic films then The Book Thief is definitely for you!