The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

“Although something inside her told her that this was a crime- after all, her three books were the most precious items she owned- she was compelled to see the thing lit. She couldn’t help it. I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.”

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a historical gem, infused with characters, emotions and experiences that will linger in your mind and will no doubt make this book an instant favorite. It is without a doubt one of the best books I have read this year and in all honesty, perhaps over the past few years. From the first page I wanted to devour this book, to read it without letting life interrupt and yet it was also a novel that I wanted to savor, to draw out over time so I could fully appreciate it. Selfishly I realized that to finish it too quickly would be a shame and I would be denied of Zusak’s ingenious and captivating story telling. I cannot say enough good things about this book; I have yet to find another book from its genre that can compare.

The novel follows Liesel Meminger, an orphan who is taken in by Hans and Rosa Hubermann, during the years preceding WWII in the German city of Molching, where the fervor for the Fuhrer touches all aspects of daily life. Despite the troubling circumstances of her arrival, Liesel comes to benefit from the affection of those around her; Papa and the playing of his accordion, her childhood friend Rudy and his endless attempts to earn a kiss, the firm but loving hand of Mama. However, Liesel finds true contentment in reading and she soon becomes a thief of books to expand her small but treasured library. As with so many stories from this era, life turns when her parents do not side with the aspirations of those around them and they ultimately make the most decisive and dangerous choice of all when a promise from the past leads them to hide a Jew named Max in their basement. What transpires afterwards is nothing that anyone could have anticipated.

There are many unique aspects of this book that were unexpected. The writing is absolutely beautiful; there really is no better way to put it. Australian born Zusak weaves his stories with an intricate complexity, and while the book itself is a series of numerous smaller stories, they all come together to form a seamless story line. Zusak also puts so much originality into his characters that you cannot help becoming attached to them as you read about individual quirks and deeds. Another truly interesting aspect of the book is that the narrator is Death. It took me a few chapters to realize who was telling the story, but it adds a unique, all-seeing narrative that is littered with poignant wisdoms about humanity at the time. His portrayal is refreshing and not the typical caste of Death that might be expected, but that of a benign, shapeless form that watches the mishaps of humanities and strives to perform his duties as efficiently as he can, while trying to understand the acts of humans. One of the most telling statements made by Death is towards the finale of the book when he states, “I am haunted by humans.”

The consistent theme of reading and books in the novel seems conventional but it molds the lives in the book in some regards, allowing the characters to escape, to learn and to show emotions for those around them. Liesel’s (also affectingly known as saumensch) first literary acquirement mirrors the loss of her mother and brother, the second and third are hard-earned gifts of love from her Papa Hans, another an act of extreme courage and the most important book comes as an expression of gratitude from Max. Loss, love, courage, gratitude; four themes of many that are woven into The Book Thief. In a time when the world around them was twisting and turning into something foreign, books were the one thing that kept Liesel grounded. I think many readers can associate with that notion, turning to books when stressed or needing to be motivated or just looking for an exciting and completely different life that can be experienced through words.

I was somewhat surprised to remember after finishing the book that I had discovered it in the Teen section of a book store. In many ways it seems too advanced to be in the Teen section, but when I consider what I was interested in and my reading level when I was a teenager, perhaps it is suiting to still have books of this quality available to young adults. However, adults can appreciate its brilliance as well and the numerous friends and family members I have recommended it to have enjoyed it immensely.

Published in 2005 The Book Thief has won numerous prizes and awards of recognition, all of which are well deserved in my opinion. It was a delightful surprise, a book that I had never heard of before but which has left a lasting impression. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates literary masterpieces that pull you completely into another world and keep you engrossed in it.

Devon – athousandbooklife

Other books by Markus Zusak: I Am The Messenger (2006), Getting The Girl (2004) or When Dogs Cry (2001), Fighting Ruben Wolfe (2000) and The Underdog (1999)


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Filed under Historical Fiction, Teen

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