Book Review - The Book Thief
Note: This was actually a graded oral for my english class and I’ve only edited it a bit for this so that’s why this is a little more formal than usual.
‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is a historical fiction novel set in the fictional town of Molching, Germany during the holocaust. It follows Liesel Meminger, adopted by Hans and Rosa Hubermann and is about the hardships faced by everyone at this time in history. It shows the discrimination against Jewish people, and the hardships of the few that stand against it.
Plot and themes:
The Book Thief has a plot that is quite different to most books about the holocaust. Instead of following a Jewish person, it’s about an adopted German child. The main tension in the story is the danger Liesel’s family is in as they harbour Max, a Jewish man, but it’s also about the Germans who stood up to the rule of Hitler, despite the danger of the death of everyone they love. The setting of a small town in Germany allowed for more subtle and personal discrimination as opposed to the statistics we have become almost use to. The domestic scenes showed the constant pressure to conform and how things escalated from discrimination to genocide.
Okay so there’s a lot of themes, so I’ll just list the main ones and then give a few examples: courage, resistance, and death.
Death, the narrator, says “In 1933, 90 percent of Germans showed unflinching support for Adolf Hitler. That leaves 10 percent who didn’t. Hans Hubermann belonged to that ten percent.” Hans’ defiance shows his bravery in that be begins to lose friends, work and attract suspicion due to his acceptance of Jews. Each time he puts up his flag late, or does a less than enthusiastic ‘Heil Hitler’ he puts his life in jeopardy. When he agrees to harbor Max, a Jew, he is defying Hitler in the most dangerous way possible. This courage shows his strength of character.
My second example is this: Liesel sees German officals inspecting houses down the road while she plays soccer in the street. In the face of this danger she pretends to fall, scraping her knee which bleeds heavily. She then uses this as an excuse to return home without suspicion and warns her mother, Rosa, about the officials.
These displays of courage and sacrifice in the face of danger are inspiring. Their bravery and loyalty to their beliefs is a prime example of humans at their best. These characters represent the bravery and struggles of hundreds of people in the Holocaust and their actions are immortalized within the pages of ‘The Book Thief’
There are so many amazing characters in this book, I couldn’t possibly talk about them all. Liesel has fierce love for her family and friends, her bravery in her silence. She understands the peril of harboring a Jew and never complains about hunger or the constant danger they live in. Rudy is defiant and does exactly what he wants. His bravery is in his recklessness, such as his refusal to go to Hitler Youth training and willingness to do anything for those he loves. Hans’ bravery is in his tireless love, loyalty and instinctive resistance, as well as the scene I wrote about earlier, he harbors a Jewish man, risking lives for the son of a friend who saved his life. The characters are well developed and their bravery is awe inspiring.
What I liked:
I loved Zusak’s writing style. The imagery was amazing and the words flowed so nicely it was relaxing and easy to read for long periods of time. Interest was maintained through the lovable characters and shocking hardship they endure. From very early on in the story we are told that Rudy will die. That after the bombs drop Liesel will cry and kiss the lips of his corpse under a red sky. Death even says that it doesn’t see the point of suspense. Despite knowing in part what will happen, the ending is perfectly tear-jerking, perhaps more so because we knew for so long it was coming.
I think what grabbed me most was Death. I really liked the personification, the cold style with which it spoke, how it brushed over the death of millions like it was nothing, because in Death’s eyes it was, everyone will die eventually, but I also loved the fondness it showed and the way Death marvels at humans courage and endurance. This is the first time I’ve seen Death as a narrator. I think it was a clever way to give a different perspective within the book.
I also love the title. At first glance, ‘The Book Thief’ refers to Liesel, who steals books from burn piles, and private libraries, but in fact many characters are book thieves. Rudy is Liesel’s best friend and accomplice, Death steals Liesel’s book when she leaves it behind, Max paints over Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’ and writes his own, and Hitler takes books and burns them to destroy knowledge. Stealing books may seem unimportant, but each word gives hope to the tortured characters in “The Book Thief”.
I recommend reading ‘The Book Thief’ after the age of 12. Any younger and it would be difficult to understand the subplots and language. Some background knowledge of the holocaust is also necessary before reading it. I honestly think that everyone should read ‘The Book Thief’ and other books on this topic to remind ourselves that we can’t allow it to ever happen again. I love this book, 10/10.