Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

bookthiefI just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak a few nights ago and it was a very moving story. Many of you may have read the story already, or watched the 2013 film last year – does the film capture the book well?

For those who haven’t neither read or watched the film, here is a brief summation:

The Book Thief is the story of a German girl, Liesel Meminger growing up with her foster parents on Himmel Street in a German town, during the rise of Hitler. The story is told from the perspective of Death. Liesel is a book thief, with a fascination and addiction for stealing books as she learns to read and comes to know the power of words.

When Max, a Jewish man shows up at their doorstop one day, Liesel and her parents hide him in their basement. Liesel and Max develop a strong friendship through books, and Max writes her a story. Eventually, Max must leave for fear of further endangering their lives. We seen snippets of the war as Liesel’s father is conscripted into the German army and their town is threatened by bomb strikes. Liesel’s father returns from the army, but their joy is shortcut when Liesel sees Max again, as one of the Jews being marched through the German town on the way to a concentration camp. Liesel reaches out to Max, but is whipped by the German soldiers in front of the whole town.

Liesel is later given a blank book in which to write a story and she begins to write the story of her life in the basement where she once watched Max write his story. On one of the nights that she is writing her story in their family basement, a bomb strikes Himmel Street and everyone in her neighbourhood is killed, except for her. She is rescued from the basement and loses her book in the debris. Death, retrieving all the souls of the people who died, also picks up Liesel’s book.

Afterwards, Liesel lives with the mayor’s wife (who she had become friends with) and one day, Max appears at her door – having survived and emerged after the WW2. They are reunited. Liesel eventually grows up to have a family of her own and move to Sydney where she dies in her sleep at an old age. Again, Death is there to collect her soul, having watched her story unfold through the years. Death gives Liesel the book that she wrote and tells her “I am haunted by humans”.

My review:

Overall, I quite enjoyed The Book Thief for its differences – how it’s told from the perspective of Death and how it’s the story of a young German girl during WW2. It actually took me a little bit to figure out who the narrator was, as I had just expected it to be Liesel. I also enjoyed how, from a young girl’s perspective, you see the joys and seemingly trivial events that happen as a child growing up, but you also see the compassion and humanity of a child, growing up, who does not understand and refuses to accept the cruelties happening around her.

I also thought the idea of her being a “book thief” was interesting  – as it explores the power of words to both heal and destroy. She hates the power of words, as they’ve been used by Hitler, to perpetuate an ideology that creates hate and prejudice against Jews and Jewish sympathisers. Yet she is also drawn to their power to heal and form friendships.

At some parts of the story, however, I felt it became a bit long winded – especially when it described her childhood life and school. Perhaps, by being not a child anymore, it’s always a bit of struggle to be drawn into the perspective of a child again, relaying the dramas of everyday life.

Related text potential for 2015 Area of Study: Discovery

  • What kind of discoveries are made by the characters in TBT? Self discoveries? Challenges to themselves and the social norms around them?
  • What is the cost of discovery? Why does Death shy away from being too involved?
  • Is growing up, a discovery in itself?
  • What do Death and Liesel discover about the nature of humanity?
  • What is meant by Death’s conclusion “I am haunted by humanity”?


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