book review: the book thief

The Book Thief

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

‘Superbly crafted writing’. Now if that isn’t the understatement of the year, I don’t know what is.


I rarely (if ever) buy/read books that come into the spotlight of public approval, because, honestly, those books are usually not the type of thing I would read. I have much better things to do with my time and money, thank you. But I sometimes do read the back covers of the newest book fads if the title/cover catches my eye. The Book Thief certainly made me look twice because books are basically my life. When I read the back cover I knew I had to read this book sometime. Historical fiction is one of my weaknesses (although I don’t like historical romances) and WWII is one of the time periods I most love reading about. I discovered there was quite a bit of language in it, so I had to actually buy a copy, not just get it from the library and then wait for my mom to read through all six hundred, or so pages and cross out all the swearing.

After some waiting, I was finally able to read it for myself.

*** A SMALL FACT ***
There are two ways
to read a book.
1. Swiftly, gulping down pages.
2. Slowly, watching the words slide by one by one.

The first time I read it, I stayed up until one o’clock, taking just five hours to read the whole thing. It was terrifically hard to stay awake at times (it is a slow moving book…something I will address in a few sentences), but by the last one hundred pages, all thoughts of sleep had fled from my mind. I had to know what happened. Even though I kind of already did (Death is a walking spoiler). I spent the last hundred pages in varying stages of tears, and the very last few pages were read in a sort of haze.

The second time I read it (finished it just last night, actually), I read much more slowly. I wanted to savour the words and the way they were put together and all the beautiful imagery permeating every page. Sometimes it wasn’t even describing beautiful things (more often than not it wasn’t), but the way the author made the images come alive in your head…beautiful.

The sky was dripping. Like a tap that a child has tried its hardest to turn off but hasn’t quite managed.

And it’s better to read it slowly, rather than quickly, because that’s how it was meant to be read. The story moves slowly (although it’s never boring). In some ways, it’s more like a series of episodes that tie into each other in ways not immediately visible. Death (the narrator, you know, and another reason I wanted to read this book so badly – the different narration) takes us to the past, the future (Liesel, if she really lived, wouldn’t be dead yet), and zigzags all over the ‘present’ of the storyworld.

The first time: lots of tears near the end.
The second time: a heavy, leaden heartache for most of it.

The first half of the book is definitely more lighthearted than the second half (although it’s still filled with the dry morbidness of Death), mostly with Liesel learning to read, becoming close friends with Rudy, and taking laundry to Rosa’s different clients. Then, when Max shows up on their doorstep, things become much more serious. Now, the characters themselves are interesting, funny, and heartbreaking all in their own way. Even the most minor ones make any impression. Liesel, of course, is the book’s main character and not only does she love books, but she also ends up writing her own story near the very end, which I loved (not to mention it was the thing that saves her life). Rosa and Hans Hubermann are Liesel’s stepparents. In my opinion, they are like a slightly different version of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Rosa loves Liesel but she doesn’t ever really tell her, and Hans helps Liesel and encourages her to follow her dreams and nurture her imagination. The book’s other two male characters, Rudy and Max, are both favorite characters of mine. Rudy is Liesel’s friend. The boy with hair the colour of lemons and the constant wish for a kiss from Liesel. And Max. The Jew that Rosa and Hans and Liesel hide in their basement. The author of two books – The Stand-over Man and The Word Shaker. The character who’s the subject (or author) of many of many of my favorite quotes.

One was a book thief. The other stole the sky.

“Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands.”

“When death captures me, he will feel my fist on his face.”

It’s the most beautifully awful book I’ve ever read. I really can’t explain it any better than that. It’s beautiful in the words and the story and the characters, but it’s awful in the way it’s sucks you into the world of Himmel Street and then dashes that world – and your emotions – to the ground. You root for the characters so much that even when Death foretells the ultimate demise of certain ones, you still keep hoping that someway, somehow, they’ll survive. And then when they don’t…well, it’s terrible. Absolutely terrible. One reviewer does point out that The Book Thief never kicks your emotions when you’re down, and I think that’s true. It doesn’t blatantly try to make you cry and then keep heaping the grief on. It’s subtle, but there all the same. The whole book is subtle. I doubt I’ll ever fully grasp all the different meanings and nuances of the sentences after even a dozen readings, but that’s part of the fun of it, right? And now I will leave you with a few more of my favorite quotes…

The only thing worse than a boy who hates you is a boy who loves you.

He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry. {small note on a couple of things I forgot to mention in my review: first of all, this book will stomp on your heart just like Rudy does with Death. Secondly, you actually start feeling sorry for Death, especially near the end. It’s weird}

A small but noteworthy note. I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.

It kills me sometimes, how people die.

As they walked back to Himmel Street, Rudy forewarned her. “One day, Liesel,” he said, “you’ll be dying to kiss me.”

Sometimes people are beautiful. Not in looks. Not in what they say. Just in what they are.

When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything.

“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

A definition not found in the dictionary – Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children.

She was one of the few souls that made me wonder what it was to live.

A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.

I’ll admit I got a little carried away there. But at least you have a little taste of the book’s gorgeous prose. Now go read it to fully understand the story of, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Trust me. You’ll love it. You might hate it for a while, but in the end, you’ll love it. {warning: there is a lot of language in both German and English, so I would mark out/have someone to mark out the words, unless that sort of thing doesn’t bother you}



6 thoughts on “book review: the book thief

  1. I completely agree! I read it at first on my own and then for class and loved it both times but in very different ways. I was really drawn to Zusak’s style and also picked up a few of his other books. You might want to check out I AM THE MESSENGER, also! A much shorter read but a good dose of Zusak!


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    This book was amazing. I was lucky enough to have a mom with a black marker- when I got to read it, all bad words were wonderfully nonexistent 🙂


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