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.