October 10, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.
-from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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Writing about World War II in Europe without living through it is a difficult task but beautiful when done properly. In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak proves that he can elegantly, sensitively and even at times humorously deliver a story that embodies the human spirit that allowed humanity to eventually prevail during this horrible time in history and the ability for books to feed the soul. 

The Book Thief is the fictional story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich during World War II, narrated by Death. Always fascinated by books, Liesel's foster father teaches her to read and ignites a hunger for books in her. Beginning even before her time in foster care, Liesel steals books and it is the only form of real control she has in her life. But Liesel's book thievery only scratches the surface of this story: from her colorful foster mother to the Jewish man hiding in her basement and the solace Liesel brings to others with her reading, this book is full of surprise that will warm your heart and make you laugh while it breaks your heart and makes you cry. This is one of those books that is difficult to articulate because there's just too much to say and my words won't do justice.
The narrative of Death is what really sets this story on a platform all its own. Death gives an omniscient narrative perspective and will often even tell the fate of a character long before necessary. This made me pay closer attention to characters I knew would not live much longer where I probably would not have paid attention to them otherwise. Furthermore, Death is not obligated to operate under the same rules of conduct as humans so he/she/it is better able to candidly speak about World War II (although, fortunately, Death is still very respectful and sincere). Having this atypical narrator set the stage for how special this book is and it provided the tools necessary to breach a sensitive topic. 

The theme of books and how Liesel stole them is easily identifiable to an avid reader, so I had no problem connecting with Liesel there. But what I also liked was how stealing gave her a sense of control amongst so much chaos. From her first book stolen at her brother's funeral on her way into foster care to all of the tumultuous changes in her lifestyle caused by the war, reading and stealing were Liesel's control. I also liked that despite stealing being "wrong", Liesel always used her books for good, reading to Max and her neighbors in the bomb shelter. 

While The Book Thief may not be a "true story", I think it does an excellent job in highlighting the human spirit during World War II and focusing on many ways, big and small, that people helped other people. Even the small act of the mayor's wife allowing Liesel to use her library and leaving her cookies was something that showed that there was still pieces of good in humanity. This book shows how books can fuel people and how people can do good, even when they're surrounded by evil. 

Bottom Line: A must read for anybody and everybody. I listened to the audio book and loved the narrative. Please pick this one up, you won't be sorry. 5/5 Stars.


  1. i know that there are so many good reviews about this book and so many people love it, but i wasn't hooked. when i read this book i kept waiting for something unexpected or at least an unusual event would happen, but i didn't get that surprising factor from this book. the one that made me hold my breath was just that final event at the about Liesl's foster parents and her best friend. but i think that the point of view of the Death as the narrator is interesting.

  2. I remember enjoying the book, but honestly I remember little else about it. I may have to re-read this one.

  3. This book is one of my all time favorites!! So glad you loved it. My heart will never be the same after reading it. I read it back in...hmm I think 2008 or 2009 for the first time and I will never forget how much I cried and how my heart felt. Then I reread it last year for book club and I felt the same. I mean, maybe not AS wrecked because I knew what was coming but still wrecked in other ways. I think my next reread will be via audio since you enjoyed it!

    I love what you said about even though it's fictional it still captured that human spirit that pervades in the face of awful things like that. That's what I loved about it too. I felt so connected to my fellow humans.

    Excellent review, Danielle!


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