It’s no secret: I’m a fan of Markus Zusak. Ever since I read and reviewed “I Am the Messenger” back in January, I’ve been itching to dig into “The Book Thief.” As an aside, that 5 month lag shows you just how huge my book collection is. But, anyways, I have heard wonderful things about this one from all my fellow bookstore employees (especially Taka!) and trust me, this review will not be an exception.
“The Book Thief” is set in World War II era Germany and is narrated by Death. Yes, you read that right – Death. Definitely one of the most interesting narrators anyone could choose. Throughout the novel, I often forgot about the narrator and was really wrapped up in the story when Death would put his little spin on things, often reminding me when the character I was reading about would perish. It totally changed my perspective on the story and really made me grateful for the time I have, as cheesy as that sounds.
The story itself revolves around Liesel Meminger, a German girl who we first meet when she is 9. She is being sent to live in Molching, with her brother, when he dies suddenly on the train. This is the first time that Death meets Liesel, but certainly not the last and also ironically marks the first time that Liesel steals a book. Liesel moves in with her foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann and slowly adjusts to life in Molching. She continues to steal books, eventually earning herself the nickname “The Book Thief” from her friend, Rudy Steiner. She also makes friend with Max, a Jew who goes into hiding at the Hubermann’s and the shut-in wife of the mayor, all while bonding over books.
What truly makes “The Book Thief” is the setting. World World II Germany is about as volatile an atmosphere there ever was and Zusak uses this to his advantage. Featuring stories about Hitler-lovers, the Hitler Youth divisions and even Mein Kampf, these situations are really what make “The Book Thief” unique and also what make it important. Stories about the Holocaust also tug at my heart and really get to me. As I mentioned in another review, I had a near-breakdown in Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam. “The Book Thief” absolutely got to me, but it was more than just the setting that did it. Zusak is a master writer and choosing Death as a narrator gives him a real freedom with his words. I often found myself re-reading sentences, just to make sure I got the clever metaphors or because they were so beautiful. Rarely does an author create a book full of beautiful phrases, but “The Book Thief” is one.
This book was amazing. It was a perfect storm; a great topic and a superb, creative storyteller. Zusak totally succeeds in making this time come to life and really matter to the reader. Even though “The Book Thief” is marketed as YA in North America (and 576 pages!), please don’t let that deter you. It’s fantastic and was marketed as adult fiction in Zusak’s native Australia. “The Book Thief” hits all the right marks and really makes for a wonderful read. Now that you have some time off from textbooks, don’t be afraid to dive head first in to this wonderful monster.