Using Death as the story's narrator, The Book Thief follows the life of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl who is sent to live with foster parents after her Communist mother flees the country during Hitler's rise to power. After some initial resistance she manages to find love for her new family, especially her accordion-playing papa, Hans Hubermann, who gives her the magical gift of literacy.
One fateful night, a young stranger appears on the doorsteps and is quickly ushered inside before collapsing. The stranger turns out to be Max Vandenburg, a Jewish man with a unique connection to the Hubermanns, and they proceed to hide him in their basement. And that's when the story really begins.
After finishing the book with tears in my eyes, I decided to rent The Book Thief movie from my local library to compare the two mediums. Now, I must preface this by saying I always find the book better than the movie, but I don't think I've ever been so let down by a book-to-film adaptation in my life.
In the book we see much more of Max's past, and his present. He talks about his dreams of boxing Hitler, develops an exercise regimen to occupy his time in the Hubermann's basment, and, after discovering Liesel's love for the written word, creates two books of his own to give her. It is in these homemade and personal stories that we really see Max's personality and depth as a character. In the movie? None of these things happen. Instead of the homemade books, Max gives Liesel a blank journal. He's almost always unconscious, making him a flat, one-dimensional character: the physically weak Jew wasting away in some cold basement, who only occasionally offers a word or two of encouragement to Liesel.
Similarly, the book version of Hans is forced to join the war effort as punishment after giving a piece of bread to a starving Jew being marched through the small town. This act of good-heartedness and humanity is unparalleled in the movie. Instead, Hans is sent into the war only after proclaiming "But he's a good man!" as a Jewish neighbor is being taken away by some Nazi officials. It's a very small detail, but Hans giving away a stale piece of bread, when he himself doesn't have much to eat, adds more to the story than his public outcry in the movie ever could.
Another major difference between the two mediums is that, in the book, Liesel's best friend Rudy learns that the Hubermanns were hiding a Jew only after Max leaves the basement (for reasons I will not tell you here). However, in the movie, Liesel actually goes as far as to tell Rudy about hiding Max.
These are just a few of the differences between the book and movie versions of The Book Thief. And while it may seem like I thought the movie was complete rubbish, that is really only in comparison to the original text. I would recommend both versions of The Book Thief to anyone who has an interest in WWII, the power of literacy and the goodness of mankind. However, I feel like it is my duty to warn you that, like me, you probably won't find the film nearly as moving if you've already read the book. And if you haven't read the book yet, you should probably try and find the time to do so. The 500+ pages are worth every second, and then some.