The Book Thief Review - A book is more than just a book
by Markus Zusak
Published in 2005
This book had actually been recommended to me several times before I finally got a chance to read this. Every time I had heard of the book, I didn’t really take a moment to think about what this book would actually be about. However, once I kept hearing reviews from friends and actually watched the movie about this book, I knew I had to read The Book Thief.
The book begins with a special narrator - Death. He had seen the girl from the story three times, once on a train, once when coming for a pilot after a plane crash, and once after a bombing. With this taking place in the middle of World War II in Germany, it is no surprise Death was ever present. Liesel is on the train with her mother and brother when her younger brother suddenly dies. They get off the train and bury him, where Liesel steals a book from the gravedigger, and continue on their journey to Molching where Liesel is being brought to her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. It is a difficult transition at first, but she begins to warm up to Hans Hubermann. As she gets closer to Hans, he realizes she can’t read and begins teaching her how to read. While the town holds a book burning, Liesel manages to steal one more book.
Lisel begins helping Rosa with delivering laundry when this brings them to the Mayor’s house. She gets to meet his wife, Ilsa, who showed Liesel her immense library full of books. She invites Liesel to come whenever she wants to read books in her library. Meanwhile, Max is a German Jew who has been hiding gets sent to the Hubermanns and gets hidden in their basement. Liesel befriends him as Max writes her a book on the painted-over pages of Mein Kampf. Ilsa tells Rosa and Liesel that she can no longer afford them to deliver her laundry, which infuriates Liesel who begins sneaking into the library and stealing books. One day, Ilsa leaves a note that she knows Liesel has been stealing books. As the bombings in the neighborhood get closer, everyone must go to the bombing shelters where Liesel reads to them to keep everyone calm.
As the war worsens, the Germans parade Jews through the town on their way to a concentration camp when Hans gives one of the men a piece of bread. Germans see him and reprimand him for this which causes Hans to fear that he has brought too much attention to them and sends Max away. They never come to Hans about this, instead they come to draft him into the German army. After he leaves, Rosa shares Max’s book with Liesel called, “The Word Shaker” which is about their friendship and a promise that they will meet again after the war.
During Hans time in the German army, he injures his leg and is then sent back home. After another air raid, a pilot is killed near Liesel which is the second time Death sees her. The next time the Germans parade Jews through the town, Liesel sees Max among the prisoners. Ilsa gives Liesel a blank notebook where Liesel can write her own story, which she titles, “The Book Thief”. Another air raid strikes, killing most of the neighborhood. Workers manage to rescue Liesel out of the rubble when Death steals Liesel’s book. Liesel goes to live with Ilsa and later reunites with Max. The last time she meets Death is at an old age when Death reveals he saved the book she wrote all these years.
Final Rating & Thoughts: 8/10
This is such an excellent book because it really makes me think of what I would have done in Liesel’s shoes. I am such an avid reader and don’t discriminate my reads based on who the author is, so I can’t imagine walking by a street and just seeing a bunch of books being burned for the only reason being that they were from German authors. Even though I know Liesel didn’t steal the books she did for the same reasons that I would have, I respect and understand her decision to do so. I actually loved the character of Liesel in this book. She was just a young girl and throughout the whole book, I feel like the author managed to maintain that innocence about her, even with what was going on in the story. I also loved that even as a young girl, she was “rebelling” in her own way. In most books, it is the people who fight in the wars and protect people in their homes that are regarded as the heroes. While I agree that they are, sometimes the smallest of rebellions also go a long way. By stealing and hiding the books that she did, she managed to build a relationship with Hans and Max and Ilsa who were all connected to her because of her eagerness to read.
I also loved the characters of the Hubermanns, in particular Rosa Hubermann. It was clear from the beginning how kind Hans was based on how he treated Liesel and housed Max. However, from the beginning it was unclear what kind of character Rosa would turn out to be. Oftentimes, she seemed angry or mean, but then there were many times when she redeemed herself with kind acts that gave us an insight into her motivations and her love for Hans and Liesel. I think those times were more powerful because she only chooses to have a hard exterior to protect her family. I also loved the character of Ilsa because I felt like she reminded me of Rosa in the sense that we never really understand her motivations. She finds out that Liesel has been stealing books out of her library and instead of reporting to the police, she just continues to let Liesel do so, even rewarding her with a blank book after. It seems like in the spare time she spent with Liesel, she managed to develop this maternal bond with Liesel.
Lastly, I loved how Death wasn’t just a vague idea that was mentioned in the story. He was just as much a character as Rosa and Ilsa and Liesel were. It was interesting the way he was drawn in by Liesel even from the beginning which makes me think, what in particular was so special about her that he never seemed to forget her? Overall, this was just such a beautifully written story and I would recommend it to others because it is so different from the books that are based in World War II because we get to see it through the eyes of an innocent, young girl in Germany.