By Ton Alcantara
Stealing books can change your life.
Take it from Liesel Meminger, the protagonist of The Book Thief. She stole, or borrowed, depending on how you look at it, seven books.
Of course, there is a story behind each act of thievery, and an overarching narrative in The Book Thief touching on familiar themes used by great storytellers—tragedy, heartbreak, friendship, love, death, survival, grief, hope.
It’s a recipe for a good book. And it certainly made for engaging conversation during Fully Booked’s first Book Discussion in partnership with the Australian Embassy.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, an Australian, is about a young German girl named Liesel Meminger. She was only nine years old when her mother had to take her to live with the Hubermanns, who became the girl’s foster parents.
She then lived in poverty with her foster family on Himmel Street in Molching, Germany, in the late 1930s. Among the few possessions she had when she arrived were The Grave Digger’s Handbook, the first book she stole during the burial of her brother. As Hitler became more powerful, life turned dreary and Liesel stole more books. She purloined books from Nazi book burnings. She also stole, or, in a sense, borrowed, from the library of the mayor.
When Liesel stole her first book, she was illiterate. But with the help of her Papa, Hans Hubermann, she learned to read and develop a love for books and words.
Honey de Peralta, Vice President and General Manager of Flipside Publishing, moderated the event, posing questions to the three panelists and audience.
Among thosee questions:
Why did you read The Book Thief?
Do you think Death should have been the narrator of the story? (Yes, the author managed to convince Death to share his storytelling talents despite his busy schedule!)
What do you think about the use of foreshadowing? (Death apparently tells the reader early on who’s going to die.)
Johanna Mariflor Añes, faculty member of the University of the Philippines Department of Speech Communication and Theater Arts, says the book chose her when she was at a bookstore browsing books.
“I rescued it from falling,” she recalled. “Instead of me choosing the book, I think the book chose me. The book gives us an insight on how ordinary Germans lived in a time of atrocity and evil.”
And how about Death as the narrator?
“I felt Death was unusually depicted in this book,” says panelist Janise Ruiz, a businesswoman and active member of the Flips Flipping Pages book club.
“You would expect him to be despicable, merciless, unfeeling. There is an emotional, human side to him that you don’t expect. I found that clever. Death as the narrator of a story about death. It makes it more intriguing.”
So was Death’s foreshadowing of events and people’s deaths annoying?
Candice Lopez-Quimpo, a writer, editor, content creator, and Chief Storyteller of Homegrown Media, doesn’t think so.
“His foreshadowing is not much of a spoiler. It wasn’t annoying. It manages your expectations. You still don’t know why and when.”
The audience, made up of students and avid readers, had their chance to share their views, too. One believed the author was trying to show that Hans Hubermann was the real Superman, or Overman, and not the Übermensch of Hitler, who borrowed and twisted the concept of Nietzsche—quite possible.
The exchange of ideas at the event certainly made the experience of the book richer for everyone there as they explored the book’s meaning. And if anything, the forum showed that the value of books, stolen or not, lies in what they actually mean.
Honey, the moderator, shared an apt passage about Liesel’s first stolen book, The Grave Digger’s Handbook:
“The point is it really didn’t matter what the book was about. It was what it meant that was more important.
The Book’s Meaning:
1. The last time she saw her brother.
2. The last time she saw her mother.”
With a movie adaptation of The Book Thief coming to theaters soon, grabbing a copy would be a good idea.
Just don’t forget to pay for it. Liesel already owns the title of ‘book thief’.
Our first Book Discussion event was in cooperation with the Australian Embassy and was the first of more such fora to happen at Fully Booked in the near future. We look forward to sharing more conversations with you, our fellow book lovers!