Book Review: The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
I’ve been really looking forward to sharing my thoughts on The Book Thief with you. This was a very easy five-star read, and it was far more emotional than I imagined it was going to be! I enjoyed this book so much that I went on to purchase a physical copy. If I’m not sure about books, I tend to get them on my kindle. However, books by authors that I know and love, and will read again, end up on my physical shelf. That’s also the case if I go on to love something new, as was the case with The Book Thief. If that doesn’t tell you how much I enjoyed this book then I don’t know what will!
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: 14 Mar 2006
It 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 Jew 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 find it more common to find books about the Second World War written from an English or American perspective. It is rare that we see the effects of the war from the perspective of Germans. The Book Thief is refreshing in that aspect because it fills a gap that isn’t explored enough. It peels away any stigma that all Germans supported and contributed to the war activity. On the contrary, a lot of them objected to it and actively tried to help those of Jewish faith, who were victimised.
I also enjoy how the book is told from the perspective of death. It is a challenging narrative to write, but it is one I have enjoyed by other authors in different contexts. An author who has been similarly bold in writing from this character perspective is Terry Pratchett, in his Discworld series. It would be remiss of me to imply that these books were similar, however. On the contrary, the tone is very different. That said, I appreciated both for different reasons. In The Book Thief, it emphasises how prevalent death is throughout such a tragic, heartbreaking narrative.
This is a book that will tug at your heartstrings. The ending is especially emotional, and whilst extremely personal to one of our main characters, Liesel, it fits with the events of the book. I shed a few tears. However, this book is not all doom and gloom. If anything, it only goes to emphasise the goodness of the human spirit in times of hardship. Liesel, who tragically loses her brother at the beginning of the narrative, and whose mother is taken away, is taken in by another family. Not only do they raise her when they have very little to offer in the first place, but they help inspire a fierce love – of reading.
Perhaps it is the quality time that learning to read gives her with her foster father. Perhaps it is because books are a ‘forbidden fruit’. Whatever her reasons, Liesel is a character that all book lovers can understand and come to love. She is a wilful, passionate child, growing up in a difficult time and turning to books and writing to escape. I think that is something we can all understand!
I don’t really want to discuss the finer points of the narrative and spoil the book for anyone. However, there is a lot that happens in this book. It is not the shortest at around 550 pages, but it is worth the investment of time. This is a book that I will be going back and reading again at some point in the future. It is one of those where you can do so and take away something new every time.