Life defined by words

I’ve always been amazed when a work of fiction can seem so authentic that it takes over my own reality.

“The Book Thief” is a novel that has been praised by myself and critics alike for its harsh but beautiful exploration of the human spirit. The tale is given by perhaps not the most loved, albeit trustworthy narrator, Death himself. Death discusses his brief encounters with a young girl in Nazi Germany named Liesel Meminger, who has an inextinguishable hunger for words. After the sudden death of her brother and Liesel’s first act of literary thievery, she is sent to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who live on Himmel Street — the street named after Heaven. In the tiny house there is a basement with a lone occupant: Max, a Jewish fistfighter who needs to be hidden at all costs.

When I heard that there was going to be a movie adaptation, I was ecstatic, but also a little apprehensive.

With most movie adaptations, there are a few things I wish had been done differently and even some that I feel were done completely wrong. Whenever the movie doesn’t live up to its literary counterpart, it can be kind of depressing and could even change the way I feel about the story in general.

This was not the case with “The Book Thief.” I didn’t ever feel the film was just an imitation of the novel; it was as if I was only watching the book through my own imagination, exactly as I had when I read it the first time.

As Max tells Liesel, “Words are life,” so it was very important to me that the movie would make the words come to life on the screen. My greatest expectations were exceeded.

Each actor is in perfect parallel with his or her written character, which is all you could ask for in the case of book-to-movie casting. I can’t really favor the performance of one actor over another, but it would be unfair not to mention Sophie Nelisse (Liesel) and Ben Schnetzer (Max).

Because the story is set in Nazi Germany, it was important that they were authentic to the culture of that time and location. The movie seamlessly connects the interwoven language and culture while still being understandable in an American format.

While the movie would be great even as a stand-alone, there’s no way you could get the full depth of entertainment unless you read the book. The best part of the movie was relating it to the book and experiencing the coordination between the two.

I highly recommend reading the novel, not only for the sake of understanding the movie but simply because its one of the best books I’ve ever read.  The writing is raw and severe as you would expect from a novel narrated by Death; however, it is with a strangely gentle and heavy heart that he tells Liesel’s story. And what a story it is.