Review by Amy Finnegan — Writer, Reader, Bookshop Talk Host
It’s difficult to find the words to describe THE BOOK THIEF. The New York Times called it “Brilliant and hugely ambitious.” A few words that come to my own mind are beautiful, enlightening, heart-warming, heart-wrenching, joyful, courageous, and devastating.
The story of Liesel Meminger, and her supporting cast of unforgettable friends, is narrated by Death himself. Yes, I said Death. And what an interesting narrator he is—watching, ever watching, as the smallest details of human existence play out before him. Death is not as cruel as one might think. And he is certainly not as frightening. As Death puts it, he is the one who is actually “haunted by humans.”
The story takes place in the late 1930’s through the end of World War II. I had already known that many in Nazi Germany not only strongly opposed Hitler, but downright hated him, yet I had never read such an amazing account of characters who risked their lives daily to try to right the wrongs this horrible (!!!!) man was doing to millions of innocent people around the world. Citizens of Hitler’s own country hid Jews in their homes, cursed his name, refused to believe his poisonous propaganda, and . . . paid for it dearly.
Our heroine, Liesel (just nine-years-old when the story begins), is a front and center witness to the horrors of the Third Reich. Placed as a foster child into the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, she is comforted by her devoted “Papa” (Hans), who among other wonderful things, plays his accordion for her, and most importantly, teaches her how to READ!
And oh, what a wonderful world Liesel discovers through reading. Having already stolen her first book after her brother’s funeral (an abandoned Gravedigger’s Handbook), she steals again out of a pile at one of Hitler’s infamous book burnings. And thus, the pillaging continues, all for the sake of her insatiable desire to read more and more and more.
One book in particular actually saves the life of a Jewish man, Max Vandenburg, when along his journey to the Hubermann’s home (to be hidden in their basement).
And then there’s the adorable Rudy Steiner, so head-over-heels in love with Liesel that for the longest time, the only way he knows how to show his affection is to call her horrible names, then in the following sentence, beg her for a kiss. The two not only steal books together, but apples for their very hungry stomachs. And their adventures grow more serious as the war progresses.
Even with all the moments of awful sadness, I still smiled through the larger portion of this book. In the remaining parts of the story, I sobbed so hard I could no longer see the words. But through ALL of it, I marveled with wide eyes at the beauty of the writing.
In short, THE BOOK THIEF is a masterpiece. I’ve never read anything else quite like it. And I will certainly never forget it.
Market: Young Adult/Adult Fiction
Mature Themes: war, death, tyranny, the holocaust and everything ugly that went along with it.
PS. To hear Markus Zusak discuss his inspiration for this book, and why he chose Death as the narrator, follow the link here (scroll down the page a bit, and you’ll see the video).