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The Book Thief

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The Book Thief. Markus Zusak. 552 pp. Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

Rachel Ishak

Social Work, Fall ‘2017

11 October 2017.

 

Liesel Meminger, a young German girl, is sent to live with foster parents Rosa and Hans in Nazi Germany. While settling into her foster home, Hans teaches Liesel to read, and she develops a deep hunger for books. Liesel begins to steal books from anywhere possible – including Nazi book burnings. Meanwhile, the family agrees to hide a Jew named Max Vandenberg, whom Liesel quickly befriends. Markus Zusak, in his gripping novel The Book Thief, brilliantly portrays the life of an innocent young girl living in Nazi Germany and masterfully reveals the powerful nature of words and friendship.

There are three aspects of The Book Thief that make it the greatest novel I’ve ever read: it’s captivating, informative, and emotional.

Aside from the storyline, one of the most captivating parts of this novel is the narration. All of the events in the story are told through the perspective of Death. Death’s tone is melancholy and timeless, yet it conveys the interest in Liesel’s story. Death reveals himself early on by saying:

“I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough… It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away” (4).

Zusak’s decision to cast Death as the narrator adds uniqueness and depth not present in many other novels. The novel is set in Nazi Germany – a time in history when death dominated. Because Death tells the story, each event conveys the reality of the Holocaust in a powerful and interesting way.

This novel is also informative, as Zusak does an amazing job of capturing the life of a young girl in Nazi Germany. The Holocaust is a time marked by some of the worst atrocities in history, but Zusak doesn’t always paint it that way. He highlights all of the aspects of a normal child’s reality that we don’t recognize when we think about the Holocaust. Even children during the Holocaust attended school, had crushes, and went outside to play with friends.

The interesting and informative aspects of the novel drive the emotion, which is best seen in the relationships. Liesel’s special father-daughter bond with her foster father Hans melts the reader’s heart. She treasures the opportunity to escape the world and read stories with the only father she has ever known. She also develops a friendship with Rudy, a boy from her neighborhood. Their friendship is simple, fun, and adventurous – one that will bring back memories from your own childhood. When her family takes in the Jewish man, Max, she immediately becomes attached to him, taking it upon herself to befriend and care for him. The way she admires Max, at a time when he was seen by the world as worthless, is touching. Not only is this relationship heartwarming, it’s a powerful illustration of the unconditional love of Christ.

It takes time, however, to grasp the beauty of this story. I could go on for hours praising this novel, but I wasn’t sold on its greatness at first. When I initially read The Book Thief, I found the opening 100 confusing and uneventful. I didn’t understand Death’s narration or see how the story would blossom into something memorable. As I continued reading, though, the pieces of the story came together in such a way that I couldn’t put the book down.

Years later, The Book Thief remains my favorite novel. This book is masterfully written and thought-provoking in a way I’ve not experienced in any other book. It’s unparalleled in the way it describes a true, revolutionary event through the eyes of a fictitious young girl. You won’t view the Holocaust the same after reading this book. The Book Thief will give you a greater appreciation for books and relationships and will open your eyes to the reality of mortality, war, and standing up for what’s right.

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