I’ve read a lot of novels and memoirs set during World War II. The Book Thief was added to the world’s arsenal of WWII novels in 2005 and quickly became a best-seller. Author Markus Zusak is a young writer whose parents lived in Europe during the war. Their stories inspired this book.
Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York
Publication Year: 2005
Location: Munich, Germany
POV: narrated by Death
My Source: a paperback I purchased at Amazon
2006: Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book
2006: School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
2006: Daniel Elliott Peace Award
2006: Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year
2006: National Jewish Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature
2006: Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
2007: Michael L. Printz Honor Book The Printz Award for YA Literature
2007: Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Children’s Literature
The Premise of The Book Thief
A young abandoned girl learns of love and grief during World War II, while stealing books.
Liesel Meminger – The main character, who learns to love reading and writing.
Werner Meminger – Liesel’s brother
Rosa Hubermann – Liesel’s foster mother, who has a problem with words.
Hans Hubermann – Liesel’s foster father, a kind and patient, loving man who teaches Liesel well.
Rudy Steiner – Liesel’s best friend and a member of the Hitler Youth.
Max Vandenburg – A guest in the Hubermann household.
Ilsa Hermann – The mayor’s wife.
Death – The narrator of the novel.
There are many other characters, but these are most important.
This book cover links to the copy of the book I bought – an inexpensive paperback. This particular book probably should not be “read” as an audiobook if you have a choice, because there are two sections which are hand drawn, containing little stories within the story, along with illustrations. Also, if you had only an audiobook, you wouldn’t notice how the little notes from our narrator, Death, are in bold type, with asterisks.
This “Anniversary Edition” contains a section at the back with Zusak’s writing notes (a sampling) along with information about his writing process, and an interview.
The Book Thief – Themes
Books can get you through almost anything.
Love while you can because the opportunity could soon be lost.
Kindness is not wasted.
Life is unpredictable and too often, painful.
The pain of life is balanced by the depth of love.
I haven’t seen the 2013 movie yet. I like to read the book before seeing the movie. It isn’t on Netflix streaming – too bad. I may pay to watch it on Amazon.
First the colors.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
Or at least I try.
* * * HERE IS A SMALL FACT * * *
You are going to die.“
Markus Zusak’s Writing style
This is an easy novel to read, unlike The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne which tested my reading endurance skills a year or so back. No, The Book Thief is nothing like that. It was written for teenagers – apparently teenagers who like to read, because it is quite long. The chapters are short and entertaining.
The narrator, Death, is a shadowy figure who doesn’t intrude in the story very often but when he does, it is often with translations of German words into English, or little tidbits of information such as the one above, “You are going to die.” Yes, he’ll see you in the end. But overall this is not a morbid book, but more a life-affirming book about love and the kindness people are capable of showing each other in even the worst of conditions.
Several times during the story Death steps in to let us know the outcome for some of our favorite characters isn’t going to be cheery, so when the end comes, we expect disaster, and it doesn’t make us want to throw the book across the room, because we know Death has a reason for being in a story about war.
My experience of reading The Book Thief
This book took me six months to get through! I kid you not. I’m sometimes the slowest reader around. Pathetic! Yes, I know it is a long book, but usually I’m a little more focused. This time I was dreadfully interfered with by a financial disaster in May which necessitated me getting an extra job (transcription) to supplement my normal writing income. That took my mind off the book and for quite a long time I read nothing. Then I went back to reading a chapter each night before sleeping, and toward the end – say, the last three or four book sections (there are 10 sections and an epilogue) I had a hard time putting the book down.
My opinion of this book
I’m tempted to say it is just another World War II novel, but really, it isn’t. This book has a unique narrator and colorful albeit flawed characters. Well, some of the characters had flaws – the women more than the men, when you think of it. Rudy was athletic. Hans was a perfect father. Max was a perfect house guest. Whereas Liesel was a book thief and her foster mother, Rosa, had a habit of verbal abuse. The antagonistic people in the neighborhood were women. I think I detect a pattern there!
The only men who had truly negative characteristics were the Fuhrer (Hitler) and his motley crew of Jew-persecuting soldiers… but they were not main characters in the book. Even Death, the narrator, who I perceived to be more male than female, had no bad characteristics. He wasn’t running around killing people. That wasn’t his role. He was the one who scooped them up after the final breath, in some ways comforting them with finality.
About the Author
This was not the first published novel for Markus Zusak, but it is the novel that catapulted his career into fame and a movie contract. He’s Australian, married with children. Markus is two years younger than my oldest child. He was born on June 23, 1975. Excuse me for thinking of him as a kid but I just can’t help it. I think of him as young, and some other person is going to think he’s an old man. Whatever the case, we can agree he’s a talented author, educated at the University of New South Wales.
Blog at Tumblr: Zusak Books
On Goodreads: Author Markus Zusak
More books – same author
The Book Thief is set in a small town near Munich, in southern Germany
From the book:
Quite a way beyond the outskirts of Munich, there was a town called Molching . . . . That’s where they were taking her, to a street by the name of Himmel.” – page 26
The street name, Himmel, means heaven. I couldn’t find Molching on the map so either it is no longer there, or it was never there in the first place and is a fictional location near a larger well-known city.