Leisel Meminger has had to wait too long to be written about as I’m lagging way behind with my post. You know her don’t you? From Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief? She’s the nine-year old German girl given up to foster parents since her own were Communists – a dangerous thing to be during WWII. She’s the one with brown eyes in times when blue was the safer colour. But she was safe – at least she was German.
What’s more, she knew how to keep a secret – an essential trait for a thief. This was a skill she would need later, to save a friend’s life. But first, I have to tell you about her stealing adventures. She stole her first book ‘The Gravedigger’s Handbook’ from the site where her 6-year-old brother was buried. They were meant to be together at their foster parents’ house but death claimed him first and then stayed on with Leisel to tell her story.
Through her life she manages to steal just six books but that was enough in times when owning one might have been a crime (apart from Mein Kampf) and when bonfires were fed by books. That’s where she rescues her second one from. She hides away the still-smouldering book in her jacket and almost sets herself on fire.
Helped on by her new dad, Leisel learns to recognise the power of words and falls in love with them. One day a new friend comes to live with them and shows her how words could be a double edged sword. Wasn’t it words that the Fuhrer had used to create a world so horrific it didn’t deem half its people fit to live? This new friend is a Jew. She needs to keep her mouth shut about him. His life depends on it. And she does. Didn’t I say she could keep a secret? Her foster dad wasn’t as good at it, though. The day he extended a bit of bread to a starving Jew he knew he’d made a mistake. He knew the Fuhrer’s men would come looking and find the friend hidden away in their basement. They had to let him go, to Leisel’s heartbreak.
Through it all she manages to learn to read, play football, steal some apples and make a name for herself as a don’t-mess-with me girl with strong fists.
Leisel is an unusual girl for her fierce loyalty, her sense of right and wrong, her knack for making unusual friends and above all for her love for books. This is the love that prompts her to scribble words on the walls of her basement, that helps her calm down frightened people in bomb shelters, that gives her the means to provide consolation to old women who had lost young sons to the war. In the end it also proves to be the love that saves her life, even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to be saved.
Linking up to ABC Wednesday with thanks to Mrs Nesbitt who thought up this wonderful meme.