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The Book Thief

December 7, 2010

The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak

Published 2005, Winner of numerous awards including ALA Notable Book, Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year, Book Sense Book of Year, and many others


Death narrates a four year period in the life of Liesel Meminger, a young girl living in one of the poorest villages in Germany during WWII.  Liesel copes with the many tragic events of her life by stealing books. Liesel comes to realize that the power of words has led her country to war, but that it can also bring about peace and redemption.


This book is about the power of words, and it is duly written with powerful words.  Almost too powerful.  Like many other great books about heart-rending tragedies, this book is very moving and forces the reader to confront horrifying details of actual events.  It is uncomfortable.  I generally steer away from books that make me want to cry; but it’s important to read books about historical trauma because it would be a terrible thing if these peoples’ stories were completely forgotten just because future readers don’t want to have to cry while learning about them.  And if you’re going to read a book about the terror that Adolf Hitler brought down upon his own people—let alone six million Jewish prisoners—then this is the one to read.

When learning about the Holocaust in school, the facts about concentration camps stand out the most, possibly because it is so unimaginable that a person could be so evil as to subject an entire population to such torment.  But never did I consider the hundreds of thousands of other people tormented as well: German citizens who slowly starved to death while watching their country being taken over by one whom they knew in their hearts to be evil and destructive.  These people were also forced to help bring about the evil that Hitler desired.  I wondered as I read this book which is the worse torment, to die by evil hands, or to be forced to do the killing.

This book is about some of the German people who neither supported Hitler nor hated the Jews.  The main character is nine when the book begins and 13 when it ends.  It has a tragic beginning, a tragic middle, and an even more tragic ending.  But there’s no getting around the truth of this time and place in history, so there’s no reason to hope for a happy ending.  What keeps this book from making the reader too depressed to continue reading is that it is written amazingly well; right from the first few words, the reader is well aware that this is going to be a fantastic literary experience.  But in addition to the extremely clever wordcraft, the story itself keeps you engaged because there are moments of happiness in these wretched people’s lives that remind us that even in the darkest times, there is still goodness to be found.   These small bits of hope and, yes, even laughter at times, is what keeps the audience from turning away.  I think we’re all looking for some kind of confirmation that hope is never useless, even when it seems like it couldn’t possibly exist.  If hope can exist during Hitler’s reign, then it can exist anywhere.  The Book Thief is hope’s biggest promoter.


About the story: I can really only recommend this book for an older audience; it seems too much for a pre-teen or younger to handle.  I’ve been wrong before, though, about just how much young readers can take.  All I’m saying is that there are some details that are very sad and made all the more so because they are based on the lives of real people. 

About the writing: As I said, it’s amazing.  It’s new, inventive, and smart.  There is a reason that this book has won so many awards.  But I have to say, there were some points in the book in which the wording was so interesting that it took me out of the story.   I usually appreciate authors who find new ways of putting words together, and for like ninety percent of the time I was delighted with this author’s unique imagery.  But for that other 10 percent, I found it to be too much.  I like simplicity.  This book could have done with a little less clever phrasing.


4 ½ boots.

From → Book Treks

  1. katey brent permalink

    I loved this book. I received it as a Christmas gift, I read it in twenty four hours and passed it on to people I thought would love it too. I can also recommend another book by this author called I Am The Messenger. Another fantastic read, A bit lighter which one my need after reading The Book Thief.

    • Thanks for the new book recommendation–always looking for suggestions. Don’t you just love getting books for presents? It’s like someone giving you an experience rather than just something that sits on a shelf.

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