Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief

In The Book Thief, Death tells the story of a German girl’s life during the Second World War. He first notices the girl, named Liesel, when she steals a gravedigger’s handbook during the funeral of her little brother. He later finds Liesel’s own notebook and confides her story to us. 

The story begins when Liesel is on her way to her foster parents. Having many troubles at first, such as horrible nightmares about her dead brother and peeing the bed, she eventually feels at home and becomes best friends with Rudy as:

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

Because Liesel lives in Germany, The Book Thief gives a unique perspective on WWII and the holocaust. Liesel’s father, for example, has trouble with the nazi regime and they even take in a jew who writes down stories for Liesel in the basement, inspiring her to start writing herself.

Surprisingly enough, because the story is narrated by Death and you know more or less what will happen, this book made me cry – and cry and cry. I finished it around midnight and it took a couple of hours before I was able to gather myself and fall asleep. It has been a long time since a book devastated me this much (I think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the last one – especially when Hedwig and Dobby died…) and I liked it. Sometimes it feels good to just let your tears go and really care for fictional characters.

But this book isn’t as sad as you would expect it to be. I found the book to be funny most of the time. I laughed out loud many times when I read parts like this one:

“‘When death captures me,’ the boy vowed, ‘he will feel my fist on his face.’
Personally, I quite like that. Such stupid gallantry.
Yes.
I like that a lot.”

The characters also all had their little quirks, which made them feel real and easy to fall in love with: Liesel and her struggle with words but who also has a great passion for books, Rudy’s obsession with Jessie Owens, Papa’s accordion and Mama’s angry way of showing love.

Although I gave this book five stars, there were two things that I didn’t like as much:

One: I thought the book was a bit too long. Sometimes the pacing was off and I found myself merely glancing over the pages. I think The Book Thief would have been much stronger if some parts were cut.

And two: I didn’t like the German/English translation. This is a personal annoyance, because I can read both, but it slowed down my reading. It felt like I was reading the same sentences twice and this sometimes pulled me out of the story.

But I still absolutely love this book. A lot of people have recommended the film, but I think I’ll first try to get over the novel before I shatter my own heart again. There is only one thing left to say: Markus Zusak, you Saukerl, thank you for this great book.

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