Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 14, 2006
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
In January of 1939 Liesel Meminger steals her first book, The Grave Digger’s Handbook, which she finds covered by snow on the day of her younger brother’s funeral. As the girl and her mother stand by the boy’s grave, Death watches from afar. The story takes place in Germany during the Third Reich and the Second World War, a time when Death, the story’s narrator, is especially busy. Liesel finds her life changing dramatically as she loses her brother as well as her mother, who leaves her at a foster home. Liesel is taken in by Rosa and Hans Hubermann, who live in a poor area outside of Munich. Her accordion playing foster father teaches her to read her stolen book at night, beginning her love affair with words. Liesel steals her second book from a Nazi book burning and begins her collection. She shares the stolen words with her neighbours as they wait in shelters during the air raids. Things take a dangerous turn in November of 1940, when a Jewish man named Max Vandenburg arrives at the Hubermann’s door with a copy of Mein Kampf.
You can see a very good trailer for the book here. The video is spoiler free, but the comments below are not.
The Book Thief is a beautifully written story about the lives of lower class German citizens throughout the Third Reich. This isn’t just another book about the Holocaust. Moving and thought provoking, this is the type of book that can be life changing. The writing style is different from anything I’ve ever read (in a good way) and I enjoyed Zusak’s creative approach. I love the characters in this book because they feel so real and can be so complex. Rosa Hubermann, for example, is a foul-mouthed woman who “possessed the unique ability to aggravate almost anyone she ever met.” However, throughout the novel she proves herself to be a loving mother to Liesel. The most memorable character for me is probably Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s best friend who infamously coloured his skin with charcoal so that he could look like Jesse Owens. The characters and the story stayed with me long after I finished this book.
I’ve read The Book Thief twice- first in high school and again in January of this year. Maybe if I was writing this right after finishing the book I’d be able to think of more of its flaws. At the moment, all I can think of are the things that I loved. However, I’ve read some reviews and have heard people say that they thought the book was hard to get into, that they found Death’s narration annoying, and that they thought that the book was full of gimmicks. If you’re not drawn into the book at first and are tempted to give up, I’d really recommend that you keep going, or at least give it another chance another time. Personally, I really enjoyed the book’s narration and unique style. I never felt that Death’s narration was a gimmick, since he had a distinctive personality and offered a unique perspective that was appropriate for the story. Death as the narrator is part of what makes this book so memorable to me.
Overall, I found this book to be an original and engrossing read that I’d recommend to anyone.
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”