Ironically, the first time I read The Book Thief, I stole the book to read it. I was instantly drawn to the title as it sat high and mighty in the teachers-only section of my school’s library. I lurked near the shelf until I was sure I was alone, snatched the book, hid it under my shirt, and dramatically pretended to pull it out of a regular shelf for the benefit of the librarian. The effort seems a bit extreme in hindsight – after all, there were a hundred other books I could have chosen that day – but it also oddly fitting.
The Book Thief (Review)
The Book Thief is Markus Zusak’s best-known book. It is a work of historical fiction set in Nazi Germany and revolves around the titular book thief, Liesel Meminger. The book starts with Liesel arriving at her foster parents’ home after losing her father and brother and follows her coming-of-age as World War II rages in the background. One of the features that make this book such a poignant read is its narrator.
When the reader picks up the book, he is greeted by Death (literally). It is not Liesel or Max, the Jew Liesel’s foster parents hide in their basement, who tells the story, but it is Death. Death feels like a fitting choice, being the common denominator for everyone in Nazi Germany, whether they are Aryan or Jew, rich or poor. Death being the narrator also sets the tone for one of the biggest themes of the novel – war. Death says, “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.”
These lines instantly capture the true cost of war and highlight the fact that nobody wins in a war; they merely survive it. Even Death does not seem overly enthused by war. A marked departure from the Grim Reaper archetype, Zusak’s Death feels a great deal of empathy for the innocent lives lost due to political machinations and even rescues Liesel’s autobiography, touched by her humanity in an inhuman world.
And ultimately, that is what makes The Book Thief so powerful. Liesel is merely 9 years old when she first arrives at the Hubermanns’ house, and she has already seen more tragedy than most of us have. Although a hot-tempered young girl, Liesel never fails to treat the people around her with kindness, a trait emulated by her adoptive father, Hans as well. The family’s bravery in hiding a Jew despite struggling to feed themselves is remarkable. While the world of The Book Thief is cold and cruel, its characters are full of life, empathy, and conviction.
This is a story where it is not the machinations of Nazi Germany that seem monumental but the humanity that survives despite it. At first glance, Liesel’s fascination with books may seem absurd; after all, books are not a necessity. But the novel speaks to the power words hold. Liesel is sustained through reading, even at the very end of the novel. It not only gives her purpose but allows her to connect with other people, such as Hans and Max.
The novel also touches on the importance of telling your own story, like when Max whites out the pages of Mein Kampf to write the story of his friendship with Liesel. As I am writing this review, I realize that any paraphrase of the novel pales its true impact. Zusak’s prose is at once to the point and poetic, with almost every other line seemingly designed to deliver a sucker punch to your gut or make you stop and think. The scenes he paints are vivid, sensory, and unforgettable – so much so that scenes from the book feel as real as my own memories.
The Book Thief straddles the line between heartwarming and tragic impeccably while simultaneously ensuring its plot never stops moving. This book is the perfect read if you’re looking for a work to really touch you and make you cry while also remaining fairly uncomplicated. To me, the Book Thief is that one book in a hundred that reminds me why I love reading in the first place. I hope it does the same for you. You can get the book here! 📖
A final year law student from Chennai with an interest in policy, debate, and dogs.
The Book Thief
Ironically, the first time I read The Book Thief, I stole the book to read it. I was instantly drawn to the title as it sat high and mighty in the teachers-only section of my school's library. I lurked near the shelf until I was sure I was alone, snatched the book, hid it under my shirt, and dramatically pretended to pull it out of a regular shelf for the benefit of the librarian. The effort seems a bit extreme in hindsight – after all, there were a hundred other books I could have chosen that day – but it also oddly fitting.
Author: Markus Zusak