Review: The Book Thief

576 pages
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Young Adult

Death narrates this story about Liesel Meminger, a young spunky girl living outside of Munich with her foster parents during World War II.  Liesel’s foster father Hans teaches her to read slowly each night starting with The Gravedigger’s Handbook, a book Liesel stole from a graveyard.  This is the first of many books Liesel steals.  She treasures every book for its literary quality and uses her words to comfort herself and others during this tragic time.  Some of the people who care for her include her accordion-playing, cigarette-rolling step-father Hans; her foster mother Rosa, a wardrobe of a woman with an infamous temper and habit of cussing; Max, a fist-fighting Jew with a talent for story-telling; and Rudy, a boy with hair the color of lemons who is undoubtedly in love with Liesel.  Despite the games Liesel and the other children play, war is not a game and this is a very dangerous time for Germans, especially those hiding a Jew in their basement.  Even death seems to pity Liesel for all she endures.

Overall Impression
This story is incredibly compelling, especially with Death being the narrator.  Although it is classified as a ‘Young Adult’ book it doesn’t seem as though it was designed for younger readers.  The Book Thief can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.  I could hardly put this book down.  Within the first few chapters Zusak had me falling in love with the characters, especially Hans whose love for his family was unwavering.  It’s an interesting account of World War II in Germany since it focuses on those of German-descent who were caught somewhere in the middle – not hating Jews, but not being able to help them either.  It’s hard to summarize without giving too much away, but this story will stick with you.  Zusak really takes time to fully develop his characters so that they feel like real people to you and your own friends by the end.  While I thought the book was an easy read (and one that demands you don’t stop), it is very well-written and contains a lot of symbolism, metaphors, and interesting imagery for those who care to look.

A few moments with Hans
Liesel’s foster father loves her dearly, but there are a few moments in this book when he intentionally upsets her that speak to the severity of fear Germans felt during this time.  Liesel becomes upset on the street one day and says that she hates the Fuhrer.  Instead of comforting her, Hans slaps her.  This is a man who would never lay a hand on his family and would fight anyone who tried to hurt them.  He does this after having a huge internal conflict and it upsets him just as much as it upsets Liesel.  However, it is necessary.  He tells her “Don’t ever say that! […] You can say that in our house, but you can never say it on the street, at school, at the BDM, never!”  Then he makes her practice saying Heil Hitler!”  Hans is a man who hates Hitler just as much, if not more, than Liesel does, but he is forced to behave in this way to ensure Liesel’s safety and her understand the gravity of such claims.

Another similar incident occurs when Hans explicitly tells Liesel that if she tells anyone about the Jew in their basement him and Rosa will be taken away and Liesel will be taken away from them.  He threatens to burn all of her books if she spills a single word.  He continues telling her how they will be dragged away until she is sobbing, but he had to be sure that she would not breathe a word because all of their lives were on the line if she did.  I think these moments speak a lot about the atmosphere of Germany during World War II.  I can’t imagine living in such constant fear and paranoia of my family’s safety.

Memorable Quotes
“German children were on the lookout for stray coins.  German Jews kept watch for possible capture.” p. 169

“I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men.  They are not.  They’re running at me.” – Death on War, p. 175

“I do not carry a sickle or a scythe.  I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.  And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance.  You want to know what I truly look like?  I’ll help you out.  Find yourself a mirror while I continue.” p. 307

“Five hundred souls.  I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases.  Or I’d throw them over my shoulder.  It was only the children I carried in my arms.” – Death, p. 336

“It’s probably fair to say that in all the years of Hitler’s reign, no person was able to serve the Fuhrer as loyally as me.  A human doesn’t have a heart like mine.  The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time.  The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst.  I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.  Still, they have one thing I envy.  Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.” – Death, p. 401

I am haunted by humans.” – Death, p. 550

My Final Reaction
I sobbed.  I never cry while reading books. The last 20 minutes I spent reading this book I was sobbing.  And now I can’t stop thinking about it.  I really loved it though.  It’s going on my favorite books list, that only exists in my mind, and is right up there with The Shadow of the Wind and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

10/10 (obviously)
Go out and read it already!

14 comments on “Review: The Book Thief

  1. I loved this book and is now one of my favorites. It was just so sad, yet happy at the same time. I like how the writer was still able to create a unique book from a topic that has been written about countless times before.

    • Michelle says:

      I agree. There definitely have been many books on this topic, even many books from the perspective of a child. And yet he managed to create a fresh perspective with an interesting plot and still conveyed the immense emotions of the time. Everything he did just created the perfect atmosphere for the time and seemed so effortless yet perfect. It’s one of my favorites too. I liked the bittersweet ending.

  2. I loved this one too, I’m actually thinking of buying it for everyone on my Christmas gift list! Death was such an insightful character wasn’t he? I loved the quotes you chose. Another favourite of mine is: “For the book thief, everything was going nicely. For me, the sky was the color of Jews.”

    • Michelle says:

      That’d be a great gift! And another great quote. There were so many lines I loved in this book. I might try to get my brother to read this one. He’s almost 17 and has almost no appreciation for reading, but every once in a while he’ll enjoy a good book.

  3. Adam says:

    “From a Himmel Street window, the stars set fire to my eyes”

    I agree with your thoughts entirely. I absolutely loved this book. Death was a perfect narrator and he was just snarky enough to give you a breather without ever deflating the story. There were also so many wonderful smaller moments throughout the course of the book.

    This is an amazing book, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    • Michelle says:

      Ooh, I really loved that quote too Adam. Good choice. And you’re right about Death’s snarkiness being perfect. Sometimes you needed a break from the overwhelming emotion and while his way of stating things so bluntly was sad, it was also refreshing. I think you were one of the ones I kept hearing about The Book Thief from, so thanks for the great suggestion! 🙂

  4. wordsfallfrommyeyes says:

    This review was excellent – really good writing, and really thoughtful about the book. And the comments made it more interesting! Just dropping in – one of those days I have time to cruise about…

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks, I’m not sure I deserve your flattery though 😛 I’m glad you enjoyed my post though and I always appreciate people taking the time to read my mediocre posts =)

  5. emmiemears says:

    After your comment on my blog, I of course had to track down your review!

    Markus Zusak is a maestro with language. The way he uses personification and metaphor is effective enough to make you taste the ashes of Hans Hubermann’s cigarettes. I used this book to teach figurative language to my students in inner city DC last year (I don’t teach anymore, but I sure miss those kids) — that book provided all of us with some awesome discussions and some really heartfelt moments.

  6. KateBrauning says:

    I have this book on my shelf but haven’t read it yet- after reading your review, I’ll definitely be reading it. Thanks for a great review.

  7. care says:

    One of my top 5 books ever. Great review.

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