Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Holocaust From a Literary Angle

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“The Book Thief” a Tribute to Literacy and Life

By Skip Sheffield

It may sound like an oxymoron, but “The Book Thief” is one of the sunniest, most upbeat stories about the Holocaust ever.
“The Book Thief” is based on a best-selling novel by Australian Marcus Zusak and adapted by British director Brian Percival (“Downton Abbey”). "Book Thief" is not really “about” the Holocaust; it is just set at that time. It is more about the human spirit and the love and quest for knowledge.
The character of Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) represents that quest. Liesel is a Jewish girl whose parents are wise enough in 1938 to see the impending threat of Nazi oppression. Her father flees and her mother puts Liesel up for adoption to a sympathetic German family.
The father Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) fought for Germany in World War I but he is no fan of Hitler or the Nazis.
The mother Rosa (Emily Watson) is crabby and bitter and fearful that harboring a Jewish girl could put the family in danger. Rosa helps support the family by doing laundry for wealthier people.
Rosa’s fears are further heightened when Hans takes in a young fugitive Jewish man Max (Ben Schnetzer), whose father was a friend and fellow soldier who saved Hans’ life.
Liesel is fortunate that her fair hair and light complexion makes her look more like the Nazi “Aryan ideal.”
Liesel’s best friend is Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch) a fair-haired German boy who wants nothing to do with the Hitler Youth. In fact Rudy idolizes Olympic star Jesse Owens, an African-American who infuriated the Nazis in 1936.
Rudy has quite a crush on Liesel and campaigns to at least kiss her. Max is more a platonic friend. It is Max who helps Liesel learn to read and kindles a love of books in her. Also contributing to Liesel’s literacy is the Mayor’s wife Ilsa (Barbara Auer), who has an extensive library and also is none too fond of the Nazis.
Liesel is played by Sophie Nelisse, a young gymnast from Quebec who was nominated for a Genie Award, the Canadian equivalent of an Oscar, for her role in “Monsieur Lazhar.” Sophie delivers a wonderfully naturalistic performance. She is a gifted actress who is one to watch.
Sophie and her mother and writer-director Brian Percival visited the Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton for a question-and-answer session and meet-and-greet.
“The Book Thief” is a wonderful story for any of faith and intellectual curiosity. I suspect we will be hearing more about it at Oscar time.


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