Hello dear reading friends!
I’m very excited about this review today. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak has been one of my favorite books since I first read it back in high school. If people ever ask me that horrid question “what is your favorite book?” (which I dislike because how is a book lover supposed to narrow down her favorites to one?!), this book always comes to mind. I have never read anything like it. I have read it several times and this most recent reread just confirmed how much I love it. I was again reminded this time how poignant and fantastic it really is.
- I love the style of this book–narrated by Death and with his little asides throughout the novel. I love the short chapters and the way the story is weaved through time and place. I wanted to highlight the entire book to quote here.
- I appreciate WWII novels generally, but this one continues to stand out because of it’s perspective and the way it speaks of people beyond race and nationality.
- I forgot how long it is–500+ pages. but it doesn’t feel long. I just soak up every word.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a story of words, relationships, and growing up in the midst of war. Goodreads summarizes, “Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.”
Death as the narrator is such a compelling and dark way to tell this story. I love it for it’s poignancy and complexity. How does Death view people and their lives? How does he view war? What if his role was simply his job rather than something he enjoyed? All these questions are visited in this novel. I still have not read anything else with such a unique and moving perspective. I love the way he sees the world, the people in it, and the war. He is not stereo-typically scary or something to avoid. Rather death becomes a person with feelings and experiences all his own in this novel. And I think that unique perspective allows Zusak to begin with the end of the novel successfully. I have never met a narrator whom intrigued me like Death does in this one.
The way Death sees the world and sees humans is compelling and complex. I appreciate the way he wrestles with his interactions with and feelings about humans. Some favorite quotes about this complexity:
“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. . . . . The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying?”
“It’s probably fair to say that in all the years of Hitler’s reign, no person was able to serve the fuhrer as loyally as me. A human doesn’t have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.”
The Book Thief, pages 3-4, 491
The human characters in this novel are equally intriguing. They are rich and round characters with nuances and details akin to real like. I appreciate the complexities of life in Germany and the various views of the characters. I love the journey that Liesel goes on as she learns to read and appreciate the words. I love that she literally steals books because she loves words. I love Hans for his conscience and determination to do what is right. I love Rudy for his ridiculous fantasies about Jesse Owens and his love for Liesel from day one. I love Max for his complexity, his bravery, and his imagination. I love the friendship between Liesel and Rudy and between her and Max. Those characters and their interactions are the highlight of the book for me– making me smile, laugh, and cry.
I enjoy WWII literature generally. But this book is something different. This was one of my first WWII reads, and it continues to be a favorite. It’s behind enemy lines, so to speak, and also from a third party (Death himself). The setting within Germany is compelling as well as the various views on Nazism and the war effort. I hadn’t thought about the nuances in people’s thinking and experiences on either side of the war. Hans shows me that not everyone in Germany was a Nazi at heart. Max shows me that all people feel all sorts of emotions. Liesel teaches me that friendship can cross beyond any boundary of race or nationality. And Death teaches me that humans are complex and confusing and inspiring. These sorts of lessons are why I love WWII literature. I often find that the best of the human spirit is displayed in these novels–especially in this one.
Zusak is a master of beautiful language. It’s the language that makes this book stick with readers long after they finish it. It is raw, poignant, and gorgeous. I want to quote this whole bookThe way he can turn a phrase is quite impressive. He makes the world appear differently, the insignificant details become important, and emotions illuminate and expose. This is a story that you experience more than you simply read.
And of course, I love the words and the books and the way they save and haunt Leisel. The way that language and words form the center of this story is fascinating. As an obvious book worm and book lover myself, I love Liesel’s journey with words–from learning to read with Hans in the middle of the night to writing down her own story and sharing the words with others. I think it’s a beautiful tribute to the power of words and of stories to give us hope and healing.
“Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.”
“How many books had she touched? How many had she felt? … it felt like magic, like beauty, as bright lines of light shine down from a chandelier.”
“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
The Book Thief, pages 80, 135, & 528
Overall, this book always impresses me and always stands as one of my favorite books of all time. It is a book for people of all ages and in all walks of life. It’s for people who need hope and who need strength. It’s for those who fear Death and those who will welcome him as a friend. It is for those who love words and those who haven’t yet learned to. It is for humans of all sorts. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
What are some of your favorite books period?