The Book Thief Review
I had tears in my eyes, and I hadn’t even reached the end of the Prologue. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of the most moving books for teenagers (and adults) that I’ve read in a long, long time. It may be the best novel about the holocaust ever written. It moved me more than Night by Elie Wiesel, or Daniel’s Story by Carol Matas. It belongs on every junior high and high school bookshelf in every classroom in the world.
The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young German foster child living in a small town during the late 1930s and early 1940s. What she witnesses and experiences is tragic enough, but what makes Zusak’s novel especially compelling is that the person narrating Liesel’s story is Death himself.
The brilliance of Zusak’s novel is the way Death relates the events of Liesel’s life. The narrator is possibly the most interesting of all the characters in the novel, and Zusak does a masterful job of creating a believable persona for Death. He has a kind of wisdom and sensitivity that one might find surprising from a being whose job it is to cart away the souls of the dead. Death also foreshadows and in some cases pointedly reveals all the major events of the story because he wants to spare his readers emotional pain. This is a caring, insightful narrator, and I came to think of him as the Angel of Death, rather than as simply death personified.
The characters are just as compelling, and though Zusak’s favorite character is Rudy, my favorite was Liesel’s father, Hans, probably because I’m a father myself. There are many characters with whom readers can identify: Liesel, the main character; Rudy, her best friend; Hans, her father; Rosa, her mother. Each of them comes alive on the pages.
The Book Thief also offers much to the developing reader. Students can study the narrative technique, the use of foreshadowing, and the interesting way the narrator interrupts the narrative with bold declarative statements and questions. The book also illustrates the power of words (both positive and negative), and the therapeutic value of reading.
For parents concerned about its content, The Book Thief can be disturbing at times, but, gratefully, Zusak shows remarkably effective restraint. There are occasional mild swear words (including German profanities), but these are minor compared to some other “young adult” books I’ve had to suffer through. The Book Thief also avoids the all-too-common tendency of many young adult authors to dwell on and overemphasize sexual topics.
The Book Thief is a powerful, important story that people will still be reading decades from now.