The Book Thief

Sometimes friends urge you to read a book, extolling it as classic or calling it riveting. When you open the cover, your expectations soar. A few pages in, you begin to wonder if you have the right book. By the end of chapter three, you can barely keep your eyes open.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is not this sort of book.

Did my friends encourage me to read it? *nods head* Several teachers I deeply respect seemed amazed I hadn’t read it. Not amazed in a good way either.

The book has been on my “to be read” list for months. It has hardly been alone. At least 20 others books kept it company.

My sister received a Kindle for Christmas and the next week I benefitted. Imagine my surprise when I perused the email telling me she had loaned me an ebook. (“You can do that?”) After I figured out how to return the favor, I opened The Book Thief and began to read.

Why I hadn’t been eager to move the book to the top of my list

I like happy endings. What a Pollyanna, you say. *Shrugs* I can’t help it. Life is full of sad beginnings, middles and endings. When I open a book, I want to escape all that.

Zusak’s book is set in Nazi Germany. That was enough to help me pass it by on several occasions when my teacher friends handed it my direction.

If there is a more UNhappy time in history, I don’t know what it is. Please don’t tell me. The eradication of six million innocent people because some maniac didn’t like their ethnic background gags me just fine, thanks.

Incredible things about the writing

In Nazi Germany, there is only one person whose point of view we haven’t read a story from. No, not the Fuhrer. Death.

It is the irony of the narrator being Death that immediately drew me into the story. Seriously, if anyone can understand that time period, it would be him. Death reigned (not the Fuhrer, regardless of the man’s delusions of grandeur).

Reading the story from such a unique (and dare I say, hopeless) perspective compelled me to keep reading. By page ten, I was feeling a little sorry for Death. After all, he was overworked and saw no chance of a vacation in his future.

Blasphemous thought, isn’t it? That Death might need a vacation. Even on a regular day, thousands of people die. A day in Dachau in 1940? You get the picture.

Dachau Concentration Camp

The point of view aside, the voice is authentic. I could hear the tired sighs of Death. I could sense his amazement at the inhumanity of man to his own kind. Why should we be surprised when Death thinks murder and mayhem are socially unacceptable? After all, these things mean he has to work overtime. And he’s long overdue for a single day off.

Zusak uses unique turns of phrase in his description.  His writing has verve and pizzazz, but isn’t too sophisticated for young adult readers – his target audience.

Liesel and her supporting cast come alive. No cardboard caricatures here. Well, maybe the Hitler Youth bully and the spoiled rich criminal, but none of the major characters were anything other than round and relatable.

In the end, I cried. There’s no such thing as a happy ending from this setting. However, the overwhelming theme  and the takeaway feeling for the story pack a knockout punch. The last line of the book clues you in: “I am haunted by humans.”

Consider who tells this story and let that sink in for a few moments.



My recommendations:

  • Every person between the ages of 12 and 120 should read this book.
  • There are German words and phrases. Don’t stumble over those.
  • Death narrates, so there is death and destruction galore. It’s gasp-worthy but won’t cause you to turn away like the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan.
  • You will cry. Okay, I cried. Maybe you don’t cry when you read books, but if this one doesn’t choke you up, there could be a deeper issue.

Reading this book will help you appreciate the life you live. How can Death tell a story and make you want to hug everyone you know and celebrate being alive? Read. The. Book. Then you’ll understand.

Have you already read The Book Thief? Share your observations and reactions below.

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.