With a prodigious use of allegory, Marcus Zusak has written an enthralling human story of ordinary people caught in the trauma of  Second World War Germany.  In each of the captivating pages of The Book Thief,  an ethos and optimism arises from the hearts of children, momentarily displacing the horrors of the war.


Zusak chose Death, The Grim Reaper, as the narrator of his story. The protagonist is  a young girl, Liesel Meminger, handed off  by her mother to German  foster parents after Liesel’s brother dies in her arms on the floor of an unheated rail car.  At her brother’s  burial Liesel recovers the only memory available, an abandoned copy of The Grave Diggers Handbook. Thus The Book Thief  is born. This is a story of words, an accordionist, fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, thievery, friendships, love and family and above all a relationship between a daughter and step-father.

The Book Thief is a portrait of how war and the Holocaust causes ordinary people and families  to reshape their lives to survive.  Meet Liesel’s step-father and mother Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her best friend and partner in book thievery Rudy and the Jew Max, hidden from  the Nazis for two years in the basement of the Hubermann home.   Zusak is such a marvelous story-teller that the journey is never predictable, even as death himself narrates the tale. The story is told so beautifully that the reader may consider clearing the time for the final 200 pages in one sitting.

A word from the Narrator: “I wanted to tell the book thief many things about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

I have not seen the motion picture but as stated many times before, a good rule of thumb is to always read the book first!

I highly recommend The Book Thief for readers of any age. Other books by  Markus Zusak are Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl and I Am the Messenger.


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