Review: The Book Thief

As much time as I spend writing, I spend more time reading. Everything from fiction to nonfiction, sci-fi/fantasy to mystery, both for fun and to educate/improve myself. I have a large library of books in my room that I have been reading for years. Since starting work at a bookstore, though, I find myself buying and reading more and more new books.

There is a certain thrill to opening a new book and delving into the story for the very first time. Of immersing yourself in a world that you are wholly unfamiliar with. I want to share that magic and share my experience.

So I decided to pick up writing book reviews again. I’ll be sharing old favorites and new favorites, as well as my recommendations for books on personal development.

To start off, I am going to share one of my all-time favorite books. I actually watched the movie before I read the book, but I fell so in love with the story that I bought the book the very next day.

“One of the most enduring stories of our time, The Book Thief is just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”

The characters

The character you follow around most of the time is a little girl called Liesel. She has pretty blonde hair, dangerous brown eyes, and an undying love for words. This love starts when she discovers The Gravedigger’s Handbook lost in the snow. That begins her love affair with words and with reading.

She is taken in by a German couple, Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Rosa is constantly described as having a face that resembles crumpled cardboard and she is definitely a woman who believes in tough love. Hans is much gentler with Liesel and ends up being the one who teaches her to read.

I think part of why I love this book so much is that I identify with Liesel. When her life is turned upside down, she turns to books. She escapes into other worlds through the words with which she falls in love. It is something I have done many times.

The cast of characters is pretty small. You have Rosa and Hans, who we have already met, and you have Liesel of course. There is also Ruddy, a young boy who is the first to befriend Liesel. Everyone knows him. He is the mischevious, kind-hearted boy who lives down the street. Max comes along later, silent as a ghost. He remains hidden through, buried in the shadows with young Liesel his only connection to the outside world

There is another ghost as well. The mayor’s wife, a shadow in a robe, allows Liesel access to words beyond her imagination. We do not see much of her, unfortunately, but she still has an impact.

The narrator is my personal favorite. They are neutral by nature, but like us, they find themselves drawn towards the tale of the little blonde book thief. They provide us with a grander look at what is going on and add an air of poeticism to the story. I quickly came to love their interjections.

In fact, it is the narrator that captivated me so, because it is not often you find a story that is narrated by death in this way. Marcus Zusak definitely pulls it off, though, in a way most authors cannot.

The world

The book takes place in Germany around the start of WWII. We don’t get to see a lot of the fighting, but there is no denying the impact. You see the signs of it everywhere. It is subtle at first but the further along you go, it becomes unmistakable. The rationing. The Hitler Youth. The burning of unacceptable publications (one of which mysteriously survives). Jews hiding in basements. And then, later, the marches.

Occasionally the narrator pulls us out of Liesel’s story to show us what is going on throughout the rest of Europe. He is very tired of war, worn down from having to carry so many tortured souls into the afterlife. It is a unique, heartbreaking depiction of the realities of war told in a very artistic fashion.

Seeing the world through Liesel’s eyes changed the way I see things, ironically enough. There are moments when she describes the sky to Max, providing him an outlet to the outside world, and it is honestly beautiful. Everything about their friendship is.

The moral

This is a story of, well, stories. The power of words and how they can help us be more open-minded. How they help us not be afraid to do the right thing. How they help us connect with others on a deeper level than mere conversation or small talk can.

It is also a story of perseverance. From the beginning, Liesel is faced with a wide variety of challenges. She loses her brother. Her mother leaves her in the care of a German couple, never to be seen again. She is behind most of the children her age, mostly because she struggles with learning how to read. She has constant nightmares involving her brother and her mother.

But she keeps going. She never gives up. She keeps moving forward.

And I admire that.

The ranking

Note: I may end up adding some sort of numerical ranking system to these reviews, but for now I am going to try something different. Some books are roller coasters. Some keep you on the edge of your seat. Some are fluffy.

This one is a classic. The story is endearing and the characters are dear to my heart. There is this intangible…something that has made this story very important to me. I have bonded with other people over a shared love of this story.

One of them has a very unique tale of how he came to read it. His dad found a copy in the nightstand drawer in a hotel room in Spain. On it was a note saying to pass it on after he read it. He ended up passing it on to his son (my friend), who then passed it on to a professor.

Once you have read this book, you will truly understand just how perfect this is.

What are your thoughts? Did you like The Book Thief? Is there anything else you would like to see me include on my reviews? Which books do you think I should read?

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