The Book Thief

the-book-thiefThe Book Thief

by Markus Zusak
ISBN 878-0-375-83100-3
Alfred A. Knopf, 2005

Think you wouldn’t enjoy a book narrated by Death? Think again.

Death is at work in Nazi Germany cleaning up Adolf Hitler’s mess and catching glimpses of the book thief’s life. Leisel Meminger’s hard-scrabble life as a foster child has just enough love to balance out the misery, and just enough hope to sustain her through the stresses of life in Nazi Germany. She doesn’t set out to become a book thief, but life—and death—point her in that direction.

We like Death in this book. Factual, whimsical, down-to-earth, and reaching for the sky, Death brings the objects and people in the story to life. Zusak creates an amenable voice for Death and manages to make it a sympathetic character. We want to curl up at the feet of this Death and listen to the story. Maybe have a friendly conversation.

Zusak plays with language and images, and his pages vibrate with living energy. Sometimes I stopped to admire his turns of phrase. He specializes in personification. When a plane fell from the sky, it was “still coughing. Smoke was leaking from both its lungs.” A destroyed soccer ball was left “twitching on the cold, blistered road.” He uses foreshadowing often and effectively. He tells us what’s going to happen, but we don’t know how, or when, or to whom. We keep reading to find out.

Occasionally he over-reaches, tries a little too hard, and the literary comparisons don’t quite work. Boys being examined for admission to a Nazi school “cupped their genitals in their hands and shivered like the future.” What does that mean?

You might think a book narrated by Death and set in Nazi Germany would be ponderous and depressing. Zusak describes the horrors of life in World War II and Nazi Germany with unflinching clarity, but his characters are so real, and likeable, and enduring we feel the hope more than the horror.


Watch for the movie coming January 2014


About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on February 13, 2013, in Book reviews, Books I borrowed, Fiction and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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