“Words are life.” It’s not just a pithy piece of advice given to protagonist Liesel Meminger in the first trailer for “The Book Thief,” but also epitomizes the entire premise of Australian author Markus Zusak’s best-selling novel upon which the film is based.
With WWII Germany as its backdrop, “The Book Thief” tells the tale of young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), who’s taken in by foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) following the death of her brother. Despite being unable to read, she finds solace in stealing books. When Hans discovers a purloined volume in her room, he begins teaching her to read and write. Liesel continues pilfering books, but shares them with neighbors, as well as the young Jewish man, Max, hiding in the family’s basement. It’s Max who offers those sage words to Liesel. “All those pages. They are for you to fill,” he tells her.
Straddling the boundary between YA and adult literature, “The Book Thief” earned positive reviews when it debuted in 2006, and has spent more than 350 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.
” ‘The Book Thief’ will be appreciated for Mr. Zusak’s audacity, also on display in his earlier ‘I Am the Messenger,’ ” Janet Maslin wrote in her 2006 New York Times review. “It will be widely read and admired because it tells a story in which books become treasures. And because there’s no arguing with a sentiment like that.”
The big-screen adaptation, directed by Brian Percival from a script by Michael Petroni and featuring music by John Williams, opens November 15.