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Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book Review:  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

by Julie Failla Earhart

Markus Zusak’s second novel, The Book Thief, takes place in 1939 Nazi Germany and Hitler is starting his marches across Europe.  Liesel Meminger is a young girl of nine years, and traveling to a foster home in Munich with her mother and brother for an unknown reason. Along the way, Liesel’s little brother, who remains nameless, dies.  At the boy’s funeral, Leisel picks up a book dropped by one of the gravediggers. Although she cannot read, she treasures the book as her last link to her mother and brother.

Liesel is deposited into the not-so-loving arms of Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Rosa is an evil foster mother; she is a hateful woman who calls little Leisel names. Hans plays the accordion and is a much more loving man. He is kind and patient with Leisel, eventually teaching her to read. Hans uses the stolen book as a lullaby by reading to her when she awakes from the nightmares caused by her brother’s death.

As late 1939 gives way to 1940, Leisel’s best friend is a neighborhood boy, Rudy.  She has few other friends: a Jewish refugee, Max, whom hides in the Hubermann’s basement; and the mayor’s wife who allows Leisel to steal books from her library.  As the bombs begin to fall, Leisel, who has learned to read, comforts her bomb-shelter neighbors by reading aloud.

One of the more interesting aspects of this novel is that until about one-third through the story, I thought God was the narrator.  Instead, we learn that Death is telling the tale.  Death’s narration is broken out into small asides, much like Shakespeare does in his plays. Death’s words are centered and marked in bold for easy identification.

Zusak’s writing is new and fresh, despite the frequented topic.  His metaphors and similes have new life and create vivid imagery.  The book is also different in that it is told from the point of view of a child inside Nazi Germany.  I was struck by the poignancy of Leisel learning to read/spell by writing on a basement wall, then painting over the words when the wall was full.

I highly recommend The Book Thief to lovers of all genres.  I believe they will be impressed by it originality, scope, depth, and surprising beauty.

11 comments for “Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  1. Lindsey
    January 18, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    The Book Thief is a moving, inspiring and heartbreaking novel. However, I do think the reviewer is somewhat inaccurate. Liesel’s brother was named Werner. Her parents (at least her father) were Communists which is why she had to go into foster care. Communists were not tolerated in Nazi Germany. Rosa was not an evil stepmother. She was an ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances. While gruff she cared for Liesel and her husband and was completely in agreement with hiding a Jewish man in her home at a very dangerous time.

    I also wanted to note I watched the author in an interview. He indicated that he did not write this book with the idea that it was for children or adolescents. While a great read for older children or teenagers it’s subject matter is also entirely appropriate for adults.

    One of the better novels that I have read.

  2. Julie Failla Earhart
    August 17, 2012 at 10:04 am

    My pleasure!

  3. August 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I really like your review as I have recently read the book! For me it was a challendge and I am happy that I went until the end!

    • Julie Failla Earhart
      August 13, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Thanks! I enjoyed the book. I’m glad you kept at it. There is nothing more satisfying, to me, that struggling through a book and find it was worth it in the end. That was the way I felt about “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” HAve you read that one? The Swedish names played heck with me.

      • WebEditor
        August 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm

        Julie – thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate it.


  4. May 23, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I have a reluctant-reader, picky child, so I regularly read aloud to her until she got into high school this year or else she wouldn’t have read at all. She’s actually the one who introduced me to the book, just didn’t want to read it herself. We both really like it.

    • lisamiller
      May 24, 2012 at 11:05 am

      That’s a wonderful, wonderful way to get a “reluctant reader” to get reading. It was a daunting topic too! I haven’t read to my niece in awhile, not since she was little. I like being reminded to keep up the tradition.

    • Julie Failla Earhart
      August 13, 2012 at 11:53 am

      Linda, I’m glad you like it. And thank you for reading to your child whne she was younger. That is SO important and can make a world of difference. Even if a child doesn’t become a reader, his/her imagination has been set free and that’s so important in this world of noise.

  5. May 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    It is a beautiful, touching story, and surprisingly Death is a beautiful and touching character despite being an outsider watching what happens. I loved reading this out loud to my middle-school child, especially taking on the voice of Death. Powerful book.

    • lisamiller
      May 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed it too. How did your child react to it?

    • Julie Failla Earhart
      August 13, 2012 at 11:55 am

      How did your child react? I was stunned when I learned that Death was the narrator. i was sure it was God. I agree that Death is a beautiful and touching character.