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The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

genre: historical fiction

Summary from Goodreads

the-book-thiefIt is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.

So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.



I rarely mention the book cover, but this one is worth discussing. Whether this was the intention or not, I don’t know. The dominoes with the finger either retreating from placing the last one or ready to push them over spoke to the ripple effect words can have. Words and actions both have consequences, not all of which we can see when we push that first domino. We know what we want to happen, but sometimes one is placed too close or too far and the chain shatters.


I didn’t really care for it, but Ermisenda loved it. It’s not a bad book, and I actually recommend it despite the 2 stars I’m about to give it. I just don’t like World War II stories. I’m German and my great grandmother was a mail order bride to the U.S. in order to escape. I’ve never been a sweep it under the rug and forget it personality, but that doesn’t mean I like to read about it (even fiction) in my free time. There were also some story telling elements that were confusing and distracting because I have it as an audio book. The formatting in the paperback version may be different enough that it wouldn’t bother anyone reading a physical copy.

Random Facts I Found Interesting

  • Markus Zusak is Australian
  • The Book Thief is narrated by Death

Loved the personification of Death as he walks through the street of Germany, plucking up some souls and gently cradling others. He treats the souls of Germans and Jews differently, is more gentle with children. He sees both the good and bad of humanity and struggles to understand us. He enjoys the image we’ve given him, wrong though it apparently is, with the black hood and scythe. Though “angel” is never mentioned in the book, to me Death comes off more as the Angel of Death than the scary Black Butler chain saw wielding demon.

I’m on the fence regarding the style of narration, however. I don’t remember the proper term for it, but Death is aware of being a narrator. He speaks to the listener and lays out the chapters as if acts in a play, listing out the colors and lead characters. For the audio book, it was a little distracting and didn’t add anything to the story. However, it was done far better than the few other novels who try something similar. Too often, the narrator is going along telling the story and all of a sudden says, “I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

My favorite part of the book was how it highlighted the power of words. A love of reading brought people together. Reading out loud during bomb raids kept scared people calm. The act of reading saved a life, made connections. It also highlighted the power of words in politics. Talk about the pen being mightier than the sword, it talked about how words and charismatic speeches can create armies. If you don’t have the brute strength by yourself, talk others into doing it for you.

The last thing I want to highlight is that The Book Thief does an amazing job of showing how stupid it is to demonize a whole country. Not all Germans were Nazis just as not all Middle Easterners are terrorists. Not all Japanese people were responsible for Pearl Harbor. Germans risked their own lives to hide Jews or smuggle them out of the country. Even if the majority is in the wrong, it’s stupid to pin a label on a group of people purely due to their geographic location. I saw this in I Am Malala as well, but I don’t remember if I commented on it.

You Might Like The Book Thief if:

  • You liked The Lovely Bones
  • You liked The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Once again, I recommend the book. It’s one of those that I think will turn into a classic someday. My rating was also skewed by the amazing books I’ve read this year.

2 out of 5 stars

-Eliabeth Hawthorne

To see what other books we’ve reviewed, check out our book reviews page.