Elise's Reviews > The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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Sep 12, 08

Read in September, 2008

During a trip to Munich years ago, we visited Dachau and I was astonished and then horrified how in the open it was - the camp was surrounded by a bustling town. I guess that I had always assumed that the camps were in secret locations far from the prying eyes of regular Germans...because if they had known what was happening, surely they would have protested, right? The Book Thief showed me that it was a lot more complicated than that for the average German citizen - their livelihood and survival also hinged on their complete support of Hitler and any dissension was labeled as unpatriotic and quickly dealt with harshly.

The Book Thief is a beautiful story about an 11-year-old German orphan named Liesel that goes to live with a poor foster family, the Hubermanns, near Munich. She learns to read under their care and begins stealing books - first from a graveyard, then a book burning and others from a rich family in town. The books are powerful characters themselves, bringing solace to herself and others, contrasting against the destruction that Mein Kampf has also wrought during this time. The Hubermanns hide a Jew in their basement to whom Liesel becomes close.

Jews are marched through the streets of Liesel's town - "They were going to Dachau to concentrate." Town members begin rebelling in their small ways. One father refuses to let his son go the Hitler's school for elite youth which results in his enlistment in the German army. Liesel's foster father gives some bread to a dying Jew on a march which sets off a disastrous path of events that affects everyone in the family, including their hidden Jew in the basement.

Much of the story centers around life in the town. As the war continues, food and work are harder to come by and most are grieving the loss of family through war fatalities. I appreciated the book's ability to show that the German people suffered too. As WWII comes to Germany, Liesel's neighborhood meets repeatedly in a basement to wait out the Allied bomb strikes. These are terrifying evenings, calmed only by her readings, but the narrator wryly notes that "The Germans in basements were pitiable, surely, but at least they had a chance. That basement was not a washroom. They were not sent there for a shower. For those people, life was still achievable."

Death narrates the story, but he isn't a frightening narrator, rather a tired, over-worked one in these Hitler times and it's his take on the human race that is the most poignant. Here are some of my favorite passages.

"They say that war is death's best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: 'Get it done, get it done.' So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however does not thank you. He asks for more."

"I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men. They are not. They're running at me."

"I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that's where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate."

"Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born....They were French, they were Jews, and they were you."

This book is labeled as Young Adult, and although every teenager should read it, it's like labeling To Kill A Mockingbird as just a Young Adult book. I would recommend The Book Thief to everyone.


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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz I always went to Dachau recently and it was really odd to read a book about World War II. I had a really different perspective.
I agree, it shouldn't only be YA. I recommend it to everyone.


message 2: by deLille (last edited May 17, 2009 07:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

deLille If this is Young Adult fiction, then I think I am going to start reading more Young Adult fiction. I just read your review as well as the other reviews in GoodReads regarding this book and I am quite surprised to learn that this book is marketed just to teens.


Leonie I haven't even finished this book yet but have found it to be so moving and like you the following quote by Death when referring to war/s will stay with me for a long time I'm sure...

"I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men. They are not. They're running at me."

That is just so true, isn't it. I was also surprised that this is a YA book. I think it's a book everyone should read!




deLille I have now read this book, and it's quite stunning to realize that you are reading a GREAT BOOKS classic when it's publication date says its “contemporary fiction”. I haven't written a review on it yet because there is just SO MUCH to say. It's been several months since I read this book and I can't get my thoughts consolidated enough to write a simple post online reviewing the book. WOW, WHAT A BOOK! On so many different levels. Last time I read a book that touched me this way was when I read The Grapes of Wrath and I ended up doing a college term paper with transcendentalism and The Grapes of Wrath as its center theme… that’s how much space I needed to get all my thoughts down!

The Young Adult rating is ridiculous. Sure, teens can read this book, but they will only get so much out of it. This is the kind of book everyone needs to go back and re-read again and again as an adult.

I am overjoyed that classical fiction, the kind that will be on bookshelves 150 years from now, is being written today. This book goes up on my children's junior and high school personal "must read" lists, along with Moby Dick, Lord of the Flies, The Grapes of Wrath...



Martha If you want to read a book about what people who were not targeted by the Nazis did to protest, I would highly recommend "The Zookeeper's Wife." It's a true account of the underground in Poland. It reminds you that there was good in people during that time...I'm looking forward to finishing "The Book Thief..."


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