The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 576 pages

The Book Thief is narrated by Death. It’s set in Germany, opening in 1939. Yes, that’s World War II. Liesel Meminger, at age 9, is taken (by her mother) to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family. On the journey, she steals her first book, even though she can’t yet read. She’s haunted by nightmares of her younger brother’s death.

Among other awards, The Book Thief was a Printz Honor Book in 2007.

I knew I was missing out by having not yet read this book. I started reading it in 2008, but it was during the read-a-thon, in the middle of the night, and I just wasn’t capable of reading a book narrated by Death in the middle of the night and still appreciating it. Alas, it’s taken me nearly two years to get back to it, but at least I finally have.

I found the voice of this book to be wholly unique. While most of the material wasn’t new to me (although a bit of the perspective I hadn’t read before), this was *not* just another Holocaust book. The writing is superb, achingly beautiful. (I feel like I use that phrase way too much …) I also found it quite interesting how most things are fully disclosed before they actually happen — the narrator “spoils” himself.

The characters, the bookish elements, the writing — all excellent. A gorgeous book with a heinous setting. I say setting because war is not really what the book is about. It’s a backdrop, sure, and hardly a page goes by without mention of it, but the book is about Liesel, about words.

My only complaint (and it’s a small one): The prologue doesn’t really fit the book. After I’d read the prologue, I was sort of dreading this book. But once I got past that, the story sucked me in and the pages flew by.

Although this book was first published in just 2006, I’d call it a classic. This is a book that will endure. If you haven’t read it yet, why not? Sure, it’s not exactly short, but it’s also a young adult book, so the pages fly by (well, the fact that it’s a great story helps that, too). You have no excuse. Read it.

I definitely want to read more of Zusak’s work — I’m particularly intrigued by his I Am the Messenger.

About the author
Markus Zusak lives in Sydney, Australia. Read an interview with Zusak at the Random House website.

Other reviews
Filling My Patch of Sky
Maw Books
So Many Books
At Home with Books
In the Shadow of Mt. TBR
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
A Chair, a Fireplace & and Tea Cozy
My Two Blessings
The Book Lady’s Blog

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I checked this book out from the library. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

My impetus for finally picking this book up was the Social Justice Challenge; the January theme has been religious freedom. It’s certainly not a stretch to see how this book fits that theme.


17 responses to “The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  1. while the phrase may be overused, “achingly beautiful” does describe this book perfectly. I don’t remember the prologue specifically, so I’m not sure why it might’ve mead you dread the book. Is that where he talks about the nazi flags and all the dying?

    I am right with you. Publication date doesn’t make a book a classic, but the fact that this is a story that will stand and speak to readers of every age and time does. It is indeed a classic 🙂

  2. I agree too – I read this book last year and yes, classic worthy. I really enjoyed the voice of death (how odd is that?) It was a refreshingly different perspective and a true read on persecution for your faith.

  3. It is a great book, isn’t it? I agree with you about the prologue I had the same trouble. And it is amazing how, even though we know what is going to happen before it happens, it doesn’t spoil the story but, for me, upped the tension of it.

  4. I ADORE – all caps, bold letters, sparkles, even – ADORE this book. I’ve read it several times for myself, and I never – EVER – miss an opportunity to teach it. The prose is simple enough that my lower-level readers can “get” it, but the concepts and ideas in it are complex enough to keep my advanced readers hooked. I have more light bulbs go on over students’ heads (what I lovingly call “Helen Keller moments”) with the kids and this book than I do with any other (here’s one of my favorites:

    I mean it; I ADORE this book.

  5. I love this book so much – it took me a while to decide to read it, because it did look a bit depressing and I tend to steer clear of “Holocaust books”, which this (it turns out) isn’t really, or at least not exactly. I couldn’t agree more – this one’s a classic.

    By the way, Zusak’s books about the Wolfe brothers are beautiful too. They make me cry every time I read them.

  6. I’ve had this book for a while and haven’t had a chance to read it yet. It sounds amazing!

  7. I agree with you and all the other commenters – this book is beautiful and will become a classic!

    I haven’t read any of his other books yet, but I feel I should soon.

  8. I agree. This is a truly wonderful book.

  9. I thought the technique of “pre-tellling” events was a nice way of dealing with very tough topics for a YA crowd. Although, this is a book that crosses YA/fiction boundaries. I think it will be a classic Holocaust book for years to come.

  10. I haven’t read this book yet, either…

  11. This is one of those books that makes you wonder “why have I waited so long to read it?” I really enjoyed it as well, I thought it was very original and well written.

  12. I agree – I think this will go down as a classic. My local book club (all old ladies – I’m the youngest at 48!) loved this book when we read it two years ago. I immediately recommended it to three of my daughters, my daughter-in-law, and a friend and her high-school-age son. All of them LOVED it and wanted their own copies.

    We did (my daughters and I ) buy Zuzak’s books, I Am the Messenger, and Getting the Girl. My daughter-in-law did not much care for Getting the Girl (I have not read it) and I thought I Am the Messenger was one I could happily have missed, although my oldest daughter thought it was good, just nowhere near as good as The Book Thief.

  13. I have this book sitting on my shelf waiting to be read – hopefully it will happen soon! Thanks for the great review!

  14. I remember thinking when I first started this book that I was going to be the only one in the world who didn’t like it. Maybe that was the prologue. I’m so glad I stuck with it. I absolutely love this book. I love “I Am The Messenger” as well even though it is completely different.

  15. Pingback: Recommend some YA for me! « Word Lily

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