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The Book Thief

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It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

(Note: this title was not published as YA fiction)

592 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 1, 2005

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About the author

Markus Zusak

20 books39.4k followers
Markus Zusak is the author of five books, including the international bestseller, The Book Thief , which spent more than a decade on the New York Times bestseller list, and is translated into more than forty languages – establishing Zusak as one of the most successful authors to come out of Australia.

To date, Zusak has held the number one position at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, the New York Times bestseller list, as well as in countries across South America, Europe and Asia.

His books, The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, When Dogs Cry (also titled Getting the Girl ), The Messenger (or I am the Messenger ) and The Book Thief have been awarded numerous honours ranging from literary prizes to readers choice awards to prizes voted on by booksellers.

Zusak’s much-anticipated new novel, Bridge of Clay , is set for release in October 2018 in the USA, the UK and Australia, with foreign translations to follow.

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Profile Image for Kat Kennedy.
475 reviews16.2k followers
January 15, 2014
Just to clarify: Yes, I did cry.

I've read a lot of positive and negative reviews for this book. I can see why people wouldn't like it - I really can. Perhaps because I took a lot out of it personally, I found I enjoyed it a lot.

Quick test to see if you'll like this book:

1. Did you like Anne of Green Gables?
2. Can you cope with an off-beat, melancholy, caustic, dead-pan, self-righteous narrator?
3. Do you like words?
(Questions 4-8 were all about what kind of underwear you're wearing so don't worry about them).

So, let's all gather around for story time with Mistress Kat.

Two incidents set me off lately.

1. My neighbour came to me and complained about the Islanders (for those not Australian: the Tongan, Fiji, Papa New Guinea and New Zealand populations of Australia) causing trouble and otherwise defiling our great and beautiful nation.
2. I was tooling around on Facebook when I noticed one of my friends (one of those friends you’ve never met except in an internet community) hosting a link to a video of a speech from a man addressing the American people. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he is reminiscent of a neo-Hitler but let’s just say that the comparison would not be wholly unearned. Her comments on the video were that: everything he’d said was right, it was time that people sat up and listened for the sake of their country and that it’s about time “somebody did something”. (Fuck me, I’ve heard this phrase so many times. What is it exactly that they’re referring to? Do they actually know? I’ve yet to hear them pronounce what this “something” is or what it looks like. Is there some plan that I’m not aware of that they’re referring to? Does it involve chipmunks, honey and tequila?)

To my neighbour, I simply mumbled that I had to leave and got in my car. I was offended on behalf of my friends so I blew him off and I haven’t really spoken to him since. To my Facebook friend, I resisted the urge to make any comments. I debated about starting a fight that would, in all likelihood, spill over to our community. In the end I ignored her and I haven’t spoken to her since.

The Book Thief is not your typical WWII story. It doesn’t even ask you to sympathize with the Jews. Their plight is background to the story and their struggles and pains are rarely shown except through the pitiful/beautiful character of Max. This story actually focuses on the bad guys. Zusak assumes that you know about the struggle and the plight of the Jews. He assumes that you feel for them, that you are horrified on their behalf and so he doesn’t spend much time eliciting an emotion that you are expected to have.

Instead it focuses on the BAD guys. You get to know and live the lives of a small and poor town in Germany. The thing is, though, that these aren’t really the bad guys. Zusak, probably rightly, assumes that we’d never be able to really empathize and enjoy reading a book about characters truly bad. They’re not really bad. After all, they may be Germans and they may have escaped persecution and death, but they’re still poor. They’re the tiny fraction of the German population who sympathizes with the Jews. They harbour a Jewish man in their home and come to love him. The thing is though that for most of the novel, they’re not the good guys either. They don’t speak up for the Jewish people, they don’t try to change popular opinion, they don’t stand for what’s right. They quietly try to get by without causing waves and without risking much of themselves.

So you can see how I would sympathize. How could I think that I’m one of the “good guys” when I don’t stand up for people either? Shouldn’t I have challenged my neighbour and asked how he knew that the Islanders were to blame for all the crime? Shouldn’t I have asked him how many Islanders he knew? How he could make such assumptions about people? Shouldn’t I have challenged my facebook friend? Shouldn’t I have asked her why she’s spreading propaganda? Couldn’t I have probed her to think critically about this man’s claims, about facts and ethics?

No. I didn’t want to cause problems and I didn’t want to make waves.

The narrator of The Book Thief makes a claim that Hitler’s took over a country and started a war – not with guns or weapons but with words. I’ve read others consider this claim to be stupid and ridiculous but I actually agree with him.

When I was a child I asked my Great Aunt Nell why she insisted on engaging me in long and tedious hypothetical debates about morality, human nature, ethics and theology. Her response was always the same: if you don’t fill a child’s head with all the right stuff, someone will come along and fill it with all the wrong stuff. It’s kind of like those corny motivational quotes that the teachers post in their rooms: Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.

Well, I agree. When you don’t educate people, when you don’t teach them to think critically, with full understanding and proper knowledge, then other people come along and whisper in their ear and fill their heads up with mindless rot. Hitler told the German people how to think. He told them who was Wrong. Why they were Wrong. How to fix the Wrong. What was Right. Then he did the most powerful thing a person could do: he told them a story. When you tell a whole nation a story about the future – a gloriously bright future with Plenty and Joy; a future in which they are redeemed and have conquered their enemies; a future in which they are happy and Everything Is As It Should Be – and if you tell that story well enough, then you can conquer a country and wage a war without ever firing a single bullet.

Coincidently when you don’t speak up, when you don’t proclaim the truth, when you’re too afraid to replace ignorance with knowledge then you’re no better than an accomplice to a crime. I can’t imagine how my friends would feel if they’d known that I stood by and allowed them and their family and children to be slandered like that. Pretty appalled, I imagine – and rightfully so.

And now we come to the big reason why I think a lot of people didn’t like this book – the narrator.

The Hunger Games did a similar thing to The Book Thief. It sought to instil in its readers a sense of proper shame. However, as opposed to The Book Thief, you didn’t feel judged. After all, for the Sins that The Hunger Games was preaching of, we’re all guilty – and in our combined guilt there seems to be a lessening of accountability. Perhaps there’s a sense that we’re all going down together. When we’re damned, at least we’ll have good company, right? The Book Thief, however, singles you out as solely responsible. It strips you naked and looks down on you as it asks you to account of yourself. Not even the narrator can sympathize with you because he is the only one left blameless and innocent, looking upon us with a reserved kind of pity and bewilderment.

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. I don’t mind being stripped down. I don’t mind being reprimanded and so I loved this book. I loved this book for inspiring me to be even more outlandishly outspoken and persistently and doggedly forthcoming on my opinions of these issues. I loved this book because I loved the narrator. I loved this book because I loved the story.

I loved this book because I now have the PERFECT excuse to start a helluva lot more fights.

For some reason, that thought makes me very happy.

Profile Image for Sophia..
65 reviews2,654 followers
December 4, 2013

Liesel: Hi, I'm Liesel. I have no personality, but I'm a cute little girl.

Death: Her name is not Liesel. Her name is THE BOOK THIEF and I shall name her that for the rest of the book.

Liesel: Even though I stole, like, 3 books in total or something.

Death: Shut up, Book Thief.

Rudy: Hello everyone. Have you ever seen a lemon? That's what my hair looks like.

Death: Here is a little information you should know: this books is filled with many interesting facts. Very relevant and everything. We shall kick off with the definition from the dictionary of the word lemon.

Reader: The fuck?

Death: A lemon is a vegetable that is very yellow and acid. That's what the Book Thief's friend's hair looks like.

Reader: That's not a very good description. That's how I picture Rudy now.

Death: Shut up and read so you can cry, reader.

*Intimidated reader keeps on reading*

Liesel: Papa!

Papa: Liesel.

Death: Reader, are you crying yet?

Reader: Can you just stop that?

Death: What?

Reader: That. Popping up out of nowhere?

Death: Get used to it. And keep on reading before I killz you! And woohoho, HERE'S A LITTLE FACT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This book is not gonna end well.

Reader: Are you serious? You could have used spoiler tags, man!

*Annoyed reader keeps on reading*

Liesel: Papa, can you play the accordion?

Papa: Yes, Liesel.

*Plays the accordion. Everyone else is bored*

Rudy: Hey, Saukerl.

Death: Listen, reader. Saukerl means bitch, basically, but I suppose it's less brutal if they say it in German. HERE IS ANOTHER LITTLE FACT YOU SHOULD KNOW: A lot of random words will be in German for the sole purpose of making this book look smart and bilingual. But it really is useless as every, and I do mean EVERY word in German is immediately followed by the English translation.

Reader: Errrr. What's the point then?

Death: Who said it has to be useful? I bet you're one of those ridiculous people who thinks a book has to have a plot? Or that characters have to be multi-dimensional? And you probably think that two metaphors per sentence is too much? Well, YOU ARE WRONG. This book will show you exactly how wrong you are.

Reader: Uh. Why did I pick up this book again?

Death: Because everyone luurved it. And you will, too.

*Skeptical reader keeps on reading*

Liesel: Papa!

Papa: Liesel.

Liesel: Mama!

Mama: Shut the fuck up, you slut bitch cunt fucking whore.

Liesel: Okayyy. Rudy?

Rudy: What, Saukerl?

Liesel: I don't know. I'm just bored.

Reader: So am I.

Rudy: Wanna go steal something?

Death: YO, READER. HAD YOU FORGOTTEN ME? HERE'S SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW. What the book thief and the lemon are about to do is going to end BADLY. You have the tissues ready?

Reader: What?

*Random shit happens*


Reader: I know. That's why I'm not crying. I kinda knew it, because you TOLD me EVERYTHING before it actually happened!

Death: Shut up and keep on reading.

Reader: But I'm already 524 pages in and nothing's happened yet! Sigh.

*Goes back to reading.*

Rudy: Saukerl, wanna play football?

Liesel: Okay.

*They play football and everyone else is bored.*

Death: HERE IS ...

Reader: Oh, man, not you again!


Reader: Stop yelling at me.

Death: This is an information you should know: This was Nazi Germany and A BOOK WAS SOON TO BE STOLEN.

Liesel: Oh, a book. That's nice.


Reader: Can you just stop glorifying book thievery? It's not that impressive. You make me expect something huge and it's not. So okay, she stole a book. BIG DEAL! It's not that amazing. Stop acting like it is.

Death: *glares*

Liesel: Papa?

Papa: Yes, Liesel?

Liesel: Can you read this book for me?

Papa: Yes.

*They read and everyone else is bored.*

Mama: Hey, you fucking punk ass motherfucking slut, dinner's ready!

Liesel: Coming, Mommy.

Reader: THE FUCK?

Death: Here are two informations that you should know. First, the definition from the dictionary of the word Dinner. Dinner is the main meal of the day, eaten in the evening or at midday. ...

Reader: This is a joke, right? What's the second information?


Reader: Thanks. I love to be surprised, so it's pretty cool to see how you spoil EVERYTHING. And practically nothing happens in the first place, so everything that COULD make me care for the book is now ruined.

Max: Hello, everyone. I am sweet and cliché and nice and Jewish. Love me?

Liesel: Yes!

Papa and Mama: Let's hide him!

Rudy: Hey Saukerl, wanna play football?

Liesel: No. Fuck off.

*Goes to play with Max. Everyone else is bored*

Max: Here Liesel. Look at these 16-pages-long drawings I made for you.

Reader: Am I supposed to read that? Hey, Editor!

Editor: Yeah?

Reader: Why didn't you make the words of these stupid drawings bigger? I can't see shit.

Editor: Not my problem.

Reader: Fine. I just won't read it, then.

Editor: 'S fine. You think I actually read them? Ha, ha. *moonwalks away*


Reader: You better tell me that the story is over, I can't take it anymore.

Death: Fine. I will tell you how it ends.

Profile Image for Shannon .
1,216 reviews2,347 followers
December 4, 2013
This is a book to treasure, a new classic. I absolutely loved it.

Set in Germany in the years 1939-1943, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, narrated by Death who has in his possession the book she wrote about these years. So, in a way, they are both book thieves. Liesel steals randomly at first, and later more methodically, but she's never greedy. Death pockets Liesel's notebook after she leaves it, forgotten in her grief, amongst the destruction that was once her street, her home, and carries it with him.

Liesel is effectively an orphan. She never knew her father, her mother disappears after delivering her to her new foster parents, and her younger brother died on the train to Molching where the foster parents live. Death first encounters nine-year-old Liesel when her brother dies, and hangs around long enough to watch her steal her first book, The Gravedigger's Handbook, left lying in the snow by her brother's grave.

Her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Herbermann, are poor Germans given a small allowance to take her in. Hans, a tall, quiet man with silver eyes, is a painter (of houses etc.) and plays the accordian. He teaches Liesel how to read and write. Rosa is gruff and swears a lot but has a big heart, and does laundry for rich people in the town. Liesel becomes best friends with her neighbour Rudy, a boy with "hair the colour of lemons" who idolises the black Olympic champion sprinter Jesse Owens.

One night a Jew turns up in their home. He's the son of a friend of Hans from the first world war, the man who taught him the accordian, whose widowed wife Hans promised to help if she ever needed it. Hans is a German who does not hate Jews, though he knows the risk he and his family are taking, letting Max live in the basement. Max and Liesel become close friends, and he writes an absolutely beautiful story for her, called The Standover Man, which damn near broke my heart. It's the story of Max, growing up and coming to Liesel's home, and it's painted over white-painted pages of Mein Kampf, which you can see through the paint.

Whenever I read a book, I cannot help but read it in two ways: the story itself, and how it's written. They're not quite inseparable, but they definitely support each other. With The Book Thief, Markus Zusak has shown he's a writer of genius, an artist of words, a poet, a literary marvel. His writing is lyrical, haunting, poetic, profound. Death is rendered vividly, a lonely, haunted being who is drawn to children, who has had a lot of time to contemplate human nature and wonder at it. Liesel is very real, a child living a child's life of soccer in the street, stolen pleasures, sudden passions and a full heart while around her bombs drop, maimed veterans hang themselves, bereaved parents move like ghosts, Gestapo take children away and the dirty skeletons of Jews are paraded through the town.

Many things save this book from being all-out depressing. It's never morbid, for a start. A lively humour dances through the pages, and the richness of the descriptions as well as the richness of the characters' hearts cannot fail to lift you up. Also, it's great to read such a balanced story, where ordinary Germans - even those who are blond and blue-eyed - are as much at risk of losing their lives, of being persecuted, as the Jews themselves.

I can't go any further without talking about the writing itself. From the very first title page, you know you're in for something very special indeed. The only way to really show you what I mean is to select a few quotes (and I wish I was better at keeping track of lines I love).

"As he looked uncomfortably at the human shape before him, the young man's voice was scraped out and handed across the dark like it was all that remained of him." (p187)

"Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew." (p.239)

"The book was released gloriously from his hand. It opened and flapped, the pages rattling as it covered ground in the air. More abruptly than expected, it stopped and appeared to be sucked towards the water. It clapped when it hit the surface and began to float downstream." (p.325)

"So many humans. So many colours. They keep triggering inside me. They harass my memory. I see them tall in their heaps, all mounted on top of each other. There is air like plastic, a horizon like setting glue. There are skies manufactured by people, punctured and leaking, and there are soft, coal-coloured clouds, beating, like black hearts. And then. There is death. Making his way through all of it. On the surface: unflappable, unwavering. Below: unnerved, untied, and undone." (p.331)

"After ten minutes or so, what was most prominent in the cellar was a kind of non-movement. Their bodies were welded together and only their feet changed position or pressure. Stillness was shackled to their faces. They watched each other and waited." (p.402)

"People and Jews and clouds all stopped. They watched. As he stood, Max looked first at the girl and then stared directly into the sky who was wide and blue and magnificent. There were heavy beams - planks of sun - falling randomly, wonderfully, onto the road. Clouds arched their backs to look behind as they started again to move on. "It's such a beautiful day," he said, and his voice was in many pieces. A great day to die. A great day to die, like this." (pp.543-4)

Writing like this is not something just anyone can do: it's true art. Only a writer of Zusak's talent could make this story work, and coud get away with such a proliferation of adjectives and adverbs, to write in such a way as to revitalise the language and use words to paint emotion and a vivid visual landscape in a way you'd never before encountered. This is a book about the power of words and language, and it is fitting that it is written in just such this way.

The way this book was written also makes me think of a musical, or an elaborate, flamboyant stage-play. It's in the title pages for each part, in Death's asides and manner of emphasing little details or even speech, in the way Death narrates, giving us the ending at the beginning, giving little melodrammatic pronouncements that make you shiver. It's probably the first book I've read that makes me feel how I feel watching The Phantom of the Opera, if that helps explain it.

And it made me cry.
Profile Image for La Petite Américaine.
208 reviews1,499 followers
March 14, 2017
UPDATE: AUG 26, 2016: This review has been here 8 years, has 18 pages of 854 comments and 764 likes. There's no outrage for you to add in the comments section that hasn't already been addressed.
If you want to talk about the book, or why you liked it, or anything else, feel free.

UPDATE: FEB 17, 2014: I wrote this review 4 years ago on a foreign keyboad, so I'm well aware that I spelled Chekhov's name wrong. I'm not going to fix it, so please don't drive my review further up in the rankings by commenting on the misspelling. You're very dear, but I know his name is Anton and not Antonin. On that same note, you don't need to add comments telling me that I didn't like the book because I "don't know how to read" and "don't understand metaphors." I actually have an M.A. in in English Lit, so I do know how to read -- much better than you do, in fact. Now quit bothering me before I go get my PhD and then really turn into a credential-touting ass.

UPDATE: JULY 10, 2013: To all jr. high students who find themselves grossly offended by my review: please remember that every time you leave a comment here, you push my review up even higher in the rankings. Please save us both time and energy by not commenting. Thnx.

This was the biggest piece of garbage I've ever read after The Kite Runner. Just as with The Kite Runner, I'm (somewhat) shocked that this book is a bestseller and has been given awards, chewed up and swallowed by the literary masses and regarded as greatness. Riiiight.

The whole thing can be summed up as the story of a girl who sometimes steals books coming of age during the Holocaust. Throw in the snarky narration by Death (nifty trick except that it doesn't work), a few half-assed drawings of birdies and swastikas, senseless and often laughable prose that sounds like it was pulled from the "poetry" journal of a self-important 15 year-old, and a cast of characters that throughout are like watching cardboard cutouts walking around VERY SLOWLY, and that's the novel.

Here are some humble observations.

First, chances are that you, Mr. Zusak, are not Antonin Chekhov. You are, therefore, incapable of properly describing the weather for use as a literary device, and you end up sounding like an asshole. Don't believe me?

"I like a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate." Really? Do you, now?

"The sky was dripping. Like a tap that a child has tried it’s hardest to turn off but hasn’t quite managed.” Really?? Wow. Next you'll tell me that the rain was like a shower. I'm moved.

"Oh, how the clouds stumbled in and assembled stupidly in the sky. Great obese clouds." Yes. Stupid, obese clouds! They need an education and a healthy diet!

Next, chances are that you, Mr. Zusak, are not William Styron or any one of the other small handful of authors that can get away with Holocaust fiction. They've done their research, had some inkling of writing ability, and were able to tell fascinating stories. You invented a fake town in Germany (probably so you didn't have to do any research) and told a long-winded and poorly-written story, and in 500+ pages you couldn't even make it to 1945, so you sloppily dropped off and wrapped it up in 1943. What's the point of writing historical fiction if you can't even stay within the basic confines of that hisotrical event? For me, this does nothing more than trivialize the mass murder of over 6 million people. Maybe that's why a 30 year-old Australian shouldn't write about the Holocaust. But that's just me. Moving on.

But what really makes this book expensive toilet paper is the bad writing which is to be found not just in bizarre descriptions of the weather, but really on every page. Some personal favorites?

"The breakfast colored sun."

"Somewhere inside her were the souls of words."

"The oldened young man." WTF?!!?

"He crawled to a disfigured figure."

"Her words were motionless."

"It smelled like friendship." (Remind me to sniff my friends next time I see them.)

"A multitude of words and sentences were at her fingertips." (HUH?)

"Pinecones littered the ground like cookies."


All of this is quite funny coming from a book where the main character supposedly learns the importance of words. Further, I love that the protagonist comes to the conclusion that Hitler "would be nothing without words." Really? REALLY? Would Hitler be nothing without WORDS? What about self-loathing, misplaced blame and hatred, an ideology, xenophobia, charisma, an army, and a pride-injured nation willing to listen? Don't those count for something??

The shit-storm comes to an end when a bomb lands on our fictional town, wiping out everyone save for the sometimes book-thief main character. Of course. Because weak writers who don't know how to end their story just kill everyone off for a clean break and some nice emotional manipulation. Written for maximum tear-jerking effect, our main character spews out some great lines when she sees the death and destruction around her:

To her dead mother, "God damn it, you were so beautiful."

To her dead best friend as she shakes him, "Wake up! I love you! Wake up!" (Didn't I see the same thing in that movie My Girl?)

Then she profoundly notes that her dead father "...was a man with silver eyes, not dead ones."

And this kind of angsty adolescent prose just never ended! It went on and on to form the one long-ass, senseless, disjointed story.

But that's ok. Take it all the junk, give it a quirky narrator, an obscure and mysterious title, throw in a Jew on the run from Nazis who likes to draw silly pictures of birds and swastikas, and market it all as Holocaust lit. Ahh, the packaging of bullshit makes for such a sweet best seller.

Swallow it down, America. Put it on the shelf next to The Kite Runner. You love this. You live for this.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,327 reviews121k followers
February 8, 2024
The Book Thief was published as Young Adult novel. Don’t you believe it. This is a wonderful novel, appropriate for adults of young, middle and advanced years. My wife was shedding copious tears as she finished reading the book, and insisted that I read it immediately. How could I not? I was prepared for a moving read and was not disappointed.

Sophie Nélisse as Liesel Meminger - from TV Guide

The main character is Liesel Meminger, just shy of ten years old when we first meet her. It is pre-WW II Germany. Her father has been transported for being a “Kommunist.” While en route with her mother and brother, Werner, to be handed over to foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her brother dies. At his burial, she retrieves a book dropped by one of the gravediggers, a connection to her brother, and begins her career as a book thief. The Hubermanns live on Himmell (heaven) Street in the town of Molching, outside Munich. Rosa is a coarse, foul-mouthed woman. Hans is a warm, supportive papa. They come to form a very devoted, loving family. The story follows Liesel’s coming of age, meeting other children, particularly her bff Rudy, making friends, seeing reflected in the actions of her peers and the events that occur in the town the horrors of the age. But there is much more to this portrait of a German town than the bullies one expects to grow into the expected abusive stereotypes. There is hope, as well, for those who are dragged into the military against their wishes, for those who harbor fugitive Jews at great personal risk, for those who stand up against the abuse of the weak, for those who share a love of knowledge with those eager to learn. There is sadness, as some cannot live with what they have seen, what they have lost.

Nico Liersch as Rudy Steiner - from Imglist.com

The Book Thief is populated with a klatch of wonderful characters. The spirited Liesel will win your heart, as will her friend Rudy, Hans and even Rosa. There are other characters who will also pluck those strings. You will be rooting for this one or that one, cheering victories and weeping at defeats. Having characters one comes to care for is the greatest strength of this book.

Over all is an appreciation for words, their power for both good and evil, the magic of language, books as a source of both damnation and salvation. Liesel steals her first book as a way of maintaining a connection with her dead brother. Later, learning to read and continuing to steal books gives her a feeling of power. The impact of Mein Kampf receives much attention as does book burning.

Geoffrey Rush as Hans Hubermann - from Aceshowbiz.com

Zusak uses an unlikely narrator for his tale, Death, who speaks to us as a reporter, an observer of events, not as someone who causes death, but as one who gently carries off the souls of those who have passed. While I have no problem with this device, and while I was charmed by the characterization, I was not convinced that it was entirely necessary. One could have just used a more usual third-party narrative to tell the tale. But it is a fun addition nonetheless. The film retained the narrator and did, IMHO, a pretty good job of capturing the essence of the book.

Emily Watson as Rossa Hubermann - from Hypable.com

Zusak takes a lot of stylistic chances here, from his selection of a narrator to the incorporation of a few illustrated tales within the larger whole. They did not all work, but most did, and I appreciated his willingness to draw outside the lines.

Mark Zusak

The Book Thief accomplishes a very lofty goal. It is both intellectually and artistically daring and satisfying while offering up an emotional punch second to none. It will stimulate your brain and it will, at the same time, steal your heart.
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,016 reviews1,902 followers
October 27, 2011
“When death captures me,” the boy vowed, “he will feel my fist on his face.”
Personally, I quite like that. Such stupid gallantry.
I like that a lot.

A few days ago, when I was starting The Book Thief, my mother stopped by and saw the book on my coffee table. Having just read it herself (and knowing me better than anyone else in the world, I might add), she was determined to save me from myself. She did her very best to convince me not to read it. She described in detail the three day long headache all the crying had caused her and the heartache she now has to live with, but I’m nothing if not stubborn. I guess I never learned to listen to my mother.
I’m pretty sure her parting sentence was: “Don’t come crying to me.” And I didn’t. I huddled in a corner and cried inconsolably instead.

Death himself narrates the story about a little girl named Liesel growing up with her foster parents in Nazi Germany. At the beginning, I felt somewhat intimidated by the idea of Death as a narrator. I assumed that his voice would be dark and thunderous, but for the most part, he was a ray of light illuminating earth’s saddest time. Incredibly insightful observations and occasional dry humor are only some of the things no one but Death could have brought into this story. Besides, we hear people calling God’s name every day for many reasons, but when Death calls to Him in despair and even those calls fall on deaf ears, no one can fail to understand the gravity of the situation.

I do not carry a sickle or a scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.
And I don’t have those skull-like
facial features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.

The Book Thief is not one of those books you read compulsively, desperate to find out what’s on the next page. No. It is, in fact, better to read it slowly, in small doses, in a way that allows you to savor every word and absorb the power and the magic it contains. All the while, you know what’s going to happen. Death has no patience for mysteries. However, anticipation of the inevitable makes it even worse. My whole body was tingling with fear because I knew what was coming and I knew that it was only a matter of time.
Zusak found a way to give a fresh approach to a much-told story. He offered a glimpse at the other side of the coin. Really, should we feel sorry for the people hiding in a basement in Munich suburbs? Sure, bombs are falling on their heads, but most of them are members of the Nazi Party, willingly or reluctantly. Some of them truly think that Jews are no better than rats. Some, on the other hand, are hiding a Jew in their own basement. Some are just innocent children. But the more important question is, are we any better at all if we don’t feel compassion and sorrow? Death does a great job of asking all these questions in a calm, unobtrusive way.

I’m not pretentious enough to believe that my clumsy words can ever do this book justice. I won’t even try. Time will speak for it, as I’m pretty sure it will survive for decades and generations to come. The Book Thief and Markus Zusak should find their place in every school textbook all over the world.

Seven thousand stars could never be enough for this book.

EDIT: A few words from the man himself:

Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews162k followers
May 17, 2021

This one is a long book. But was it worth all that paper?

Click the link for my video review of the big bois in my life.
The Written Review:

I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.
Liesel, an orphaned girl, is sent to live with a foster family right before the Nazi's take over Germany.

She has a peculiar attachment to books, her first being a gravedigger's manual that she picks up during her brother's funeral.

Death takes an interest in her and her books on that day and follows her, sometimes constantly and sometimes at a distance.

There's just something so...fascinating...about her that Death cannot stay away.

Meanwhile Liesel slowly grows up in the heart of Nazi Germany.

Her adoptive Papa and Mama make her bleak life bearable. But Rudy, her best friend, makes everything right in this world.
A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.
But their idyllic lives cannot stay that way forever. Food shortages are rampart, money becomes ever tighter and Papa's son believes every word from Hitler.

And throughout all of this, Death watches.... and waits.
Even death has a heart.
Whew. I have avoided this one for so long...and I'm so glad that I finally took the plunge.

Normally, I dislike most books/movies/games set in Nazi Germany.

I absolutely hate anything that turns that much pain and sorrow into a gimmick to sell more of the product. I feel that a majority of that entertainment field both cheapens the experience and is hugely disrespectful to the victims.

I feel like this subject should be treated delicately - and there are very few bits of media that I feel do it justice.

The Book Thief was just absolutely perfect in that sense. This book was just the right mixture of joys and sorrows, of highs and lows, and of good and evil.

I loved Liesel and the way she grew up against the ever-present tide of Nazis.

The way she and her family struggled against the world, by hiding a Jew or showing sympathy, really made this book shine.

Death made an interesting perspective, though I wish the book would have been narrated more from inside his head.

Overall, loved this one. Though (and this may be just me), but am I the only one disappointed by the title?

I really was expecting a bit more book-thievery...instead Liesel was (mostly) given the very few books that she "steals".

Audiobook Comments
Extremely well-read - an absolute delight to listen to!

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Profile Image for Colleen.
84 reviews226 followers
September 15, 2007
I put off reading this book for the library book club. Here are my three reasons for doing so:

1) It's a Young Adult Book. I am an Adult. It can't be that good if it's written for young people.
2) It's about the Holocaust, and I think we've all heard enough about that. The author will probably even focus on colors among the grays, as in "Schindler's List."
3) I have WAY too many other books to read.

After avoiding the book for as long as possible, I sat down, hoping to enjoy it enough to gain some clever comments for the book group.

Turns out, most of my concerns were right. But one other thing was also true: THIS BOOK ROCKS.

The first thing any review will say about this book is that it is narrated by death. So, I might as well get it out of the way. Death, the Hooded One, the Angel of the Night, narrates. He is very busy during the war years, as you might expect. Some people claim this is a mere gimmick, and that the story is strong enough as it is.

I agree that this is a strong story-- it moves like a sailboat on a brisk day-- but I think the choice to tell it through Death was a good one. Death foreshadows constantly, so we know a bit about which of the characters will die. Instead of ruining the shock value, this heightened my anticipation and dread. And isn't that how people feel during war? They know some of them are bound to die. They know they will lose loved ones. It's one long, hellish wait to see how it will turn out.

It's also an unusual take on the Holocaust because it focuses on Liesel, an orphaned German girl living in Hitler's birthplace. Liesel (The Book Thief) and the other characters in this book are rich, interesting, and wily. I say wily because at points in the book you hate them, but they change, and you grow to love them. For instance, Liesel's adopted mother is a foul-mouthed, abusive, sharp woman. (SPOILER--->) When Liesel's adopted father is shipped off to war, however, Liesel creeps through the house to see Rosa sleeping with her husband's accordian strapped around her waist. Rosa's changes prove one of the greatest reasons to read good literature-- to get insight into the type of people we don't usually give a second chance.
151 reviews46 followers
June 24, 2008
I am apparently one of the few people who just do not see what all of the hype is about on this one. I was really excited to read this after all of the glowing reviews it got, but I was left extremely disappointed. I found the writing stilted and stuttering (hard to stutter in writing, but this book pulls it off), overly sentimental, and heavy-handed on the symbolism.

I also found the author's approach to the story to be just plain gimmicky. The first and foremost gimmick (also see heavyy-handed symbolism) is that the story is narrated by Death. Now, this might work in some books, but not this one. The choice of narrator adds absolutely nothing to the story; it is only a distraction to the reader, and it also encouraged the author to add trite observations about Death's perspective (for example, he doesn't carry a scythe, but likes the human image) that add nothing to the story. If Death here had been given developed personality or a unique perspective, then maybe (and even then it's a stretch) the choice of narrator would have worked. As it is, the story is told almost entirely as though by an omniscient narrator (is Death omniscient?) and we get absolutely nothing from the choice of Death to fill the role. It's a gimmick, and it falls flat.

The other gimmick I found most distracting (these are not the only two, but they are the most egregious) is the repeated use of little newsflash-type, bold and centered notes that appear periodically through the story to highlight some stupid point and add (in the author's mind) dramatic effect. These newsflashes, as I think of them, were irritating and served only to break up the natural narrative flow without adding anything significant. This is another example of the author hitting the reader over the head with his points, rather than trusting his own writing to get the message across. This is another ill-conceived and heavy-handed gimmick intended to correct for a poor narrative.

I think it is telling that while this book gets listed as teen fiction, Zusak actually wrote it for adults. For some reason, it got identified as being for teens when it got marketed in the U.S. (it was written in Australia). It seems to me that the explanation for this change is that the novel feels like it was written by a very immature author, and so the prose does not attain the quality one should expect of adult fiction.

I think good Holocaust stories need to be told, but the Book Thief fails at that endeavor. The story is trite; the narrative is sentimental and uninspired. I recommend that you look elsewhere for something better. If you want something for younger readers, try Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. If you're a bit older, also read Night by Elie Weisel or the Diary of Anne Frank. I might even add in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, to counteract the heavy-handed book-burning theme of the Book Thief. There's plenty more out there that better deserve your time and attention than does this book.
Profile Image for Emily May.
2,058 reviews312k followers
April 16, 2016
I hate it when this happens, I truly do.

It makes me feel wrong inside when everyone else loves a book that I find to be underwhelming... I mean, what's wrong with me?? Did I not get it?? Obviously it must be a lack of intelligence or something because everyone seems to rate this 5 stars. I was looking through my friend reviews hoping that someone would share my opinion - at least a tiny bit - and seeing 5 stars, 5 stars, 4.5 stars, 5 stars...

I can appreciate that Markus Zusak is a very talented writer, some of the phrases he uses are beautiful and highly quotable - more reminiscent of poetry than prose. And the story idea? A tale narrated by Death and set in Nazi Germany... original and ominous.

But it was the story-telling that never really worked for me. This is one of those incredibly slow, subtle books that are told in a series of anecdotes and are meant to cleverly build up a bigger picture... but the stories just didn't interest me.

I could imagine I was reading a collection of short stories (and not a full-length novel) about playground fights, developing friendships, WWI stories and death. The book felt almost episodic in nature.

These stories are supposed to come together and form a novel that is all kinds of awesome, but it was so bland. I also think that nearly 600 pages of "subtlety" can make you want to throw yourself off the nearest tall building... anyone read To the Lighthouse and spend 99% of it just wishing they'd get to the effin' lighthouse?!

I'm giving this book 3 stars for the pretty words and the concept. But other than that this book unfortunately won't stay with me. I find it an easily forgettable novel. I'm sorry :(

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Profile Image for Tamara.
1,440 reviews627 followers
December 4, 2013
I give this 5 stars, BUT there is a disclaimer: If you want a fast read, this book is not for you. If you only like happy endings this book is not for you. If you don't like experimental fiction, this book is not for you.

If you love to read and if you love to care about the characters you read about and if you love to eat words like they're ice cream and if you love to have your heart broken and mended on the same page, this book is for you.

This story is narrated by Death during World War II, and it is the story of a young German girl who comes of age during one of the most horrific times in recent history. Death has a personality. If something bad is about to happen, Death warns you ahead of time. My favorite part is when "he" stomps on a framed picture of Hitler on his way to retrieve a thousand souls from a bomb raid. Death is trying to understand the human race as much as the humans are. When "his" job becomes unbearable, he watches the color of the sky as he gathers the souls and carries them away. The descriptions of the sky are like nothing I've ever read.

A few quotes: In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer - proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water. p.164

The town that afternoon was covered in a yellow mist, which stroked the rooftops as if they were pets and filled up the streets like a bath. p.247

He was more a black suit than a man. His face was a mustache. p.413

He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It's his only detriment. he steps on my heart. He makes me cry. p.531

There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:
1. He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else.
2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache.
3. He would one day rule the world.
...Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. p.445

Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,122 reviews46.6k followers
April 28, 2020
I devoured this. I read it, then I read it again, and now I want to read it for a third time.

I’ve really got to move on, but this was just so Good with a capital G. This book takes such an interesting perspective on a very written about period of history. Having Death as the narrator for parts of the story really took it to the next level; it made it utterly unique. It also created a sense of detachment from the events, and evoked the message that death is unavoidable and will eventually come for all. I loved it, and I think the heroine is just superb.

A book thieving heroine? Say no more!



For me, one of the most important aspects of a well written character is someone I can sympathise with and feel vast quantities of empathy for. So, when the protagonist is in love with reading and appreciates the freedom it can grant, I find myself somewhat immediately won over to her cause. Liesel’s story is woe begotten and tragic yet she always seems to carry on; she always seems to realise that there are good things in this world. And they’re not just books; they’re people too. She doesn’t give up and fall into a pit of self-pity. You’ve got to hand it to her for that. For a young girl she is incredibly strong. She’s written so well; it’s so easy to invest in her story and wish for her to have an ending she deserves. But, death, by its very nature, doesn’t work that way.

“A small fact:
You are going to die....does this worry you?”

Indeed, Death is cold and undiscriminating; he can come at any time and take anyone. I should have known this was going to be a sad one. Death pretty much said so from the start. But one can hope: one can hope that someone who has gone through so much will get a happy ending, though that’s not the point of this book. I’m saddened by the ending, but it was necessary. This book’s impact would have been marginally lessened if the deaths didn’t happen at the end. At least Liesel found some degree of comfort, which lifted the veil of misery somewhat. The ending of this book is precisely what made it so powerful. I wouldn’t want it’s sadness any other way.

A fantastic story

Liesel is an orphan, and when she was adopted I expected her to have an absolutely terrible time. I expected her adopted parents to be awful. This just seemed like the predictable route this story would take, and I’m glad it didn’t go that way because Liesel learnt the value of human kindness. In the Hubermann household she received warmth and comfort. Hans Hubermann is an excellent man; he is open-hearted and genuine in his affection. He is everything the young orphan needed in a parent, and he is everything that was needed to balance the darkness in the book. He is a true figure of strength and someone who represents the underappreciated resistance to Nazism within Germany during WW2. He refuses to become a member of the political party and even hides a Jew in his basement. He’s a good man, a great man.


He is Liesel’s rock and figure of morale guidance. He’s a great character. I know I keep saying that but it is so true. Everything about this book is just brilliant. I think this is such an accomplished story. It takes a lot to write a book like this, and to end it like this. The temptation to end it differently must have been humongous. It’s refreshing to see a modern story actually end how it should rather than the easier route of a happy ending. This certainly won’t be the last book I’ll be reading by Marcus Zusak.

An outstanding five stars


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
855 reviews14.2k followers
January 27, 2023
Wow. Words cannot describe how much I loved this book, what impact it had on me. But, like Liesel, words is all I have, so I will have to try.

This is a lyrical, poignant, heartbreaking, soul-shattering story disjointedly told by a nearly-omniscient, fascinated by humans narrator - Death. (***I must confess that I kept imagining Death as the small-caps speaking Grim Reaper from Pratchett's Discworld, baffled by humans and loving cats and curry. Don't judge me - I needed a glimpse of fun in the bleakness of Zusak's story.*** ) Death has plenty to keep it busy, as the story is set in Nazi Germany during World War II.
""Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear.""
And yet he becomes strangely fascinated with one particular human, the titular book thief, a young German girl Liesel Meminger, whose childhood is marked by war, who learns to read and love and treasure books, who has her small rebellions against the force of society, who learns to love and be loved. Who has to learn to lose what she loves. Because the world is baffling, because it is a cruel place, because often it tries to stomp out love and beauty.
"I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that's where they begin. Their great skills is their capacity to escalate."
The book is beautifully surreal, with the masterfully written language reflecting the alien, non-understandable, strangely fascinating nature of the narrator - Death. It is the mix of colors and strange metaphors, semi-dictionary entries and frequent strange asides, with skipping time, with complete disregard for spoilers.
"Of course, I'm being rude. I'm spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don't have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. "
It will note the strangest things, ruminate about the weirdest subjects, and casually in the middle of a lyrical passage, omnisciently will tell us that terrible things are about to occur. It is its job to know, after all. And this prescience does not soften the blows when they finally come; it only brings anticipatory dread and loving appreciation for things and people while they still ARE.

Love. Beauty. And books. This is what the story set against the terrible backdrop of war is about. Zusak accomplished a difficult feat - making me ache for the children of the enemy, the children and people of Nazi Germany, because even when caught in the middle of destruction, even ending up on different sides of artificial barricades people are still people, still deserving of love, still beautiful.

This book is the ode to those who kept their humanity in the middle of war, who were so human that nothing could ever change that. Rudy Steiner, the boy with the "hair the color of lemons", who has so much love and integrity and life , who was by Liesel's side since the beginning of their friendship - "A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship." - Rudy, who dreamed about the kiss from Liesel
"He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry."
Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who possessed so much integrity and courage, who became real parents to Liesel, who risked everything for what they thought was right. Max Vandenburg, the Jewish fistfighter, who dreamed of battling Hitler and gave Liesel the perfect gift with everything he had.
"[...] Papa, you saved me. You taught me to read. No one can play like you. I'll never drink champagne. No one can play like you."

"Make no mistake, the woman had a heart. She had a bigger one that people would think. There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving. Remember that she was the woman with the instrument strapped to her body in the long, moon-slit night."
And Liesel herself, lost and broken, but finding comfort and strength in family, friends, and books. Liesel, who learns more about the cold cruelty of this world than most children should ever know. Liesel, who learns to read from the Gravedigger's handbook, who rescues the book from fire, who would rather steal books than food, who is not afraid to show kindness in the face of very real threat, who finally gives Rudy that overdue kiss, who fascinates even Death itself. All of them remained human despite the circumstances, despite the pressure to do otherwise, despite anything. And I love them for that.

This is a wonderful, lyrical, surreal, excellent book that broke my heart into tiny little pieces and yet gave me hope that even in the worst of times we can find beauty. 5 stars is not enough, but this is all I can give.
"I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."

DISCLAIMER: This is the first review that I've wrote after working four 14-hour days in a row followed by endless reading of textbooks and paperwork, all sore from endless and painful retracting in surgery, having composed this review in my head as a means to not pass out from hunger in the endless surgery. So if something in it seems incoherent - that's why.
Profile Image for Federico DN.
744 reviews2,045 followers
October 10, 2023

1939, Nazi Germany. Liesel Meminger is an impoverished and fragile ten years old girl barely scrapping by with her foster parents, the Hubermanns; the ever loving Hans and the deathly strict Rosa. On her spare time Liesel plays with her neighbor Rudy, and secretly steals books, any book she can find. Dedicated studies, work commitment and fierce sacrifices the daily routine; until one day an injured agonizing Jewish man collapses at the doorstep of their home. His mere presence endangering all their lives, if someone ever finds out.

By far the best WWII Historical Fiction I’ve ever read methinks, with an infinity of quotes and moments to remember by. Literary perfection as far as I’m concerned, especially for a lover of words, and a bookworm. A beautifully crafted unforgettable story, equally heartbreaking and heartwarming to no end; exquisitely weaved, with a flawless style of writing. So many terribly endearing characters; Liesel, Hans, Max, Rudy, and even Rosa, sometimes. Amazing progression and character development. Consistently captivating storytelling, and even sporadically funny at times; with a completely unexpected and devastating ending that I’ll never forget, or get over from.

A book that for a long time was my very fav No. 1, until I read I Am the Messenger that is, also by the same author. This book came just at the right time, more than a decade ago when I didn’t even know about GR, and picked it up at a local library almost on a whim. And even though I can’t stand WW literature nowadays, still remains solidly among my Top 10.

A must read in life. EXTREMELY Recommendable!

*** The Book Thief (2013) is a lovely adaptation. Superbly capturing most of the essence and best highlights of the book. An outstanding performance by Geoffrey Rush, truly deserving of especial recognition; Sophie Nelisse and Emily Watson were awesome too. Very faithful to the book too, and with an alternative, yet still welcomed, ending. 8.5/10. Recommendable! The book won hands down though.

[2006] [552p] [Historical] [EXTREMELY Recommendable] [“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”]

★★★★★ I Am the Messenger
★★★★★ The Book Thief
★★★★☆ Bridge of Clay
★★★☆☆ Underdogs 1-3



1939, Alemania Nazi. Liesel Meminger es una empobrecida y frágil niña de diez años apenas sobreviviendo con sus padres adoptivos, los Hubermann; el siempre amoroso Hans, y la terriblemente estricta Rosa. En su tiempo libre Liesel juega con su vecino Rudy, y secretamente roba libros, cualquier libro que encuentre. Estudio dedicado, compromiso con el trabajo y feroces sacrificios son la rutina diaria; hasta que un día un herido y agonizante hombre judío colapsa en la entrada de su hogar. Su mera presencia haciendo peligrar todas sus vidas, si alguien llega a enterarse.

Por lejos la mejor Ficción Histórica de la IIGM que leí jamás creo, con un sinfín de citas y momentos para el recuerdo. Perfección literaria por lo que a mí concierne, especialmente para un amante de las letras, y nerd de biblioteca. Una hermosamente diseñada inolvidable historia, en igual medida desgarradora y enternecedora hasta el extremo; exquisitamente entretejida, y con un impecable estilo de escritura. Tantos terriblemente entrañables personajes; Liesel, Hans, Max, Rudy, y hasta Rosa, a veces. Increíble progresión y desarrollo de personajes. Consistentemente cautivante narración, e incluso graciosa a veces; con un completamente inesperado y devastador final que nunca voy a poder olvidar, o lograr recuperarme de.

Un libro que por mucho tiempo fue mi gran fav N°1, al menos hasta que leí Cartas Cruzadas , también del mismo autor. Este libro llegó a mí en el momento justo, más de una década atrás, cuando ni siquiera sabía de GR, y lo escogí de la librería casi por azar. Y aunque ya no pueda soportar literatura de GM últimamente, sigue permaneciendo sólidamente entre mi Top 10.

Un deber de leer en la vida. ¡EXTREMADAMENTE Recomendable!

*** Ladrona de libros (2013) es una adorable adaptación. Superlativamente capturando gran parte de la esencia y grandes momentos del libro. Una sobresaliente actuación de Geoffrey Rush, especialmente merecedora de reconocimiento; Sophie Nelisse y Emily Watson geniales también. Muy fiel al libro, y con un alternativo, aunque igualmente bienvenido, final. 8.5/10. ¡Recomendable! Aunque el libro ganó por lejos eh.

[2006] [552p] [Histórica] [ALTAMENTE Recomendable] ["He odiado las palabras y las he amado, y espero haber estado a su altura."]
Profile Image for Tharindu Dissanayake.
298 reviews728 followers
September 28, 2021
"If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story."

I should stop fooling myself thinking that there's ever getting better at bracing through these WWII stories... or any war stories for that matter, whether they are based on real events or completely fictional. But then, they are some of the most important books anyone can ever read, capable change one's whole belief systems and priorities in life while improving the reader's ability to empathize tremendously. For me, The Book Thief turned out to be one such exceptional story.

"Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness."

When it comes to enjoying a story, different readers obviously look for different things from plot to style of writing, complex/ interesting characters, world building, the flow, and many more. What's strange about The Book Thief is, while it has nothing special going on in terms of aforementioned characteristics (may be with the exception of the beautiful writing), the book affects the reader in a most profound way. I believe it's because of the undistorted nature of the underlying story, leading up to a heartbreaking, yet perfectly realistic ending. When you realize the events are not further from the truth, it's quite easy to become overwhelmed with emotions here. But I believe that's the whole point of a story like this.

"The human child - so much cannier at times than the stupefying ponderous adult."

"A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY - Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children."

But that doesn't mean the story is lacking in anyway when it comes to characters or storytelling. Though Zusak is not attempting to go out of the way to create and outstanding main character, the realistic development of Liesel Meminger is absolutely beautiful; it's hard not to fall in love with her. The secondary characters are equally wonderful, though that ending makes it all the more difficult to brace against, having being acquainted with them that well.

"Presents#1-#13: A smashed ball. One ribbon. One pinecone. One button. One stone. One feather. Two newspapers. A candy wrapper. A cloud. One toy soldier. One miraculous leaf. A finished whistler. A slab of grief."

One thing I might not be in the majority here is the narrator, the Death. I didn't hate it by any means, but for me, it didn't seem completely necessary to use such point of view, though I understand the author's intention to introduce a unique perspective. But on the plus side, the reader do get some advance warnings about certain disappointment down the line. It was a little strange at times, coming across those 'spoiler' type warnings, like the ones related to Rudy. At first, I had assumed may be it was the author being considerate, allowing the readers to brace themselves. But the actual ending came with an unbelievable shock, making the warnings about Rudy - though still quite painful - becoming only a fraction of the disappointment. It was an unforgiving , yet very realistic ending.

"If I beat you, I get to kiss you."

This is the kind of book, which makes one feel like there's not enough stars to do justice. Like I said before, for me, it's not about literary devices when it comes to a book like this. It's all about authentic nature of the story, and the ability to affect the reader in a profound way. The satisfies both of these things perfectly. The Book Thief easily made it to my all-time-favorites and I believe this should be read by everyone. As far as the emotions go, this not an easy read, especially towards the end, but it's worth the effort.

'That's my papa's accordion.' Again. 'That's my papa's accordion.'

But sometimes, when you come across something like above, no matter how hard you try, there's no alternative but to cry... you wouldn't be able find solace in knowing that this is fiction.

"I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
634 reviews5,757 followers
February 18, 2024
Interesting Premise but Uneven Pacing

There are tons of books about World War II, and I had high hopes for this book as it was a fictional account, not bound to a concrete set of facts. The Book Thief has a narrator who is Death, and it follows the story of a young German girl named Liesel Meminger.

The plot was a great concept, but the book didn’t live up to its potential. The book was unique in that I hadn’t previously read a book about World War II from the perspective of a German citizen. Many characters in the book were children, and it was gut wrenching to experience their innocence evaporate.

However, the book had two serious flaws. One, it was really far too long. If I was editing this book, I would take out all of the instances of fistfights. They didn’t really move the plot along, and this book was nearly 14 hours long, more than 500 pages. The first 25% and last 25% were riveting, but the middle part kept me nodding off. As for the second flaw, the foreshadowing was far too strong. Now, I do enjoy the occasional well-timed hint or whisper. In this instance, it seemed like constant reminders (both whispers and shouts).

2024 Reading Schedule
Jan Middlemarch
Feb The Grapes of Wrath
Mar Oliver Twist
Apr Madame Bovary
May A Clockwork Orange
Jun Possession
Jul The Folk of the Faraway Tree Collection
Aug Crime and Punishment
Sep Heart of Darkness
Oct Moby-Dick
Nov Far From the Madding Crowd
Dec A Tale of Two Cities

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Profile Image for emma.
2,113 reviews67k followers
February 7, 2024
below i said this is my favorite book i'll never reread.

i lied.

welcome back to PROJECT 5 STAR, in which i reread onetime favorites to see if they still are, you know. favorites.

this one is not.

while ostensibly there was some teenage part of my life when this hit me like a punch in the heart, in this read i found it to be very uneven and unfeeling. it has moments of truly stellar writing, but at no point were the characters particularly memorable (prime example: even in my glowing original review, i can't remember anything about it), and at many points i thought this book was plodding along in search of a great point about humanity it wasn't really sure of yet.

there is a lot of world war two fiction in this world, and you could dedicate your whole reading career to that alone if you wanted to be very sad.

i still wouldn't recommend you pick up this particular one.


bottom line: this was a very good book when i was 13. that's an okay thing to be!

original review

Profile Image for jessica.
2,575 reviews43.4k followers
April 28, 2019
it has been more than six years since i read this book, more than six years to write a review. and honestly, i still get emotional when i think about the beauty of this story. it broke my heart and then healed it all within the space of 144,000 heavy words, 550 fragile pages, 88 touching chapters, and 1 incredible story. deaths truth may be that he is haunted by humans, but mine is i am haunted by this book. and i wouldnt have it any other way, as it is truly a pleasure.

5 stars
6 reviews
December 4, 2013
I had a hardcover of this book. I no longer have it. I did not even finish reading it, because it irritated me so much and when I asked if it got better no one could convince me that it was worth persevering.

I know that there are many people who love this book, authors who's book I love, readers who's tastes I respect. But I couldn't stand the narrator. Every time the Narrator intruded on the story it felt like exactly that--an intrusion. A lot of people really like the narrator, and I imagine if you did the book would be much more enjoyable to read. As it was I found the writing style consciously "artistic" or "literary" while the characters felt fake, superficial, and mechanical. I was too aware of the mechanics of the story and how he was manipulating the reader--kind of like going to a puppet show and having the puppeteer continually slipping and letting himself be seen. It kept knocking me out of the story.

Holocaust fiction is hard for me to read anyway, because it's an incredibly difficult period of history and human experience to read about. For me to want to read Holocaust fiction, it had better be better than okay, or even good--ti had better be absolutely amazing for me to be willing to put myself through the emotional pain and struggles that are inherent with a holocaust book. Real life is hard enough for me to get upset and stressed out by a mediocre book.

And please don't take that to mean that I only read books that are light and fluffy and safe, because I do read books that are hard, that are sad. But while some people same to take pleasure in reading a book just because it is sad ("Oh, this is a wonderful book! It made me cry!"), I don't enjoy crying in and of itself. For me to read a book that is heart wrenching, it had better offer me something besides an emotional train wreck--powerful characters I really care about, an engrossing story line, some new observation on human existence and human relations, something.

I do not usually read fiction to "learn," per se--that is, if I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust, I'd read non-fiction accounts. I have read non-fiction accounts. I have read a few things of Holocaust fiction as well, and I have read some scholarly work as well. So it doesn't sell me on the book that it is a painful story, that it shows that some Germans were good and how social pressures created the Holocaust. I needed it to be a book about people that really interested me, that I cared about, and instead I was bored with the characters and irritated at the narrator and the obvious manipulations of the author. Instead of getting wrapped into the story, every night I when I was reading it I'd throw it down and vent for a half an hour to my husband about something that annoyed me. After a few nights of this, I realized that unless someone could convince me that the second half of the book was much better than the first that it just wasn't worth my time to finish.

'm not saying it's a bad book. So many people wouldn't love it if it were bad. But it really did not work for me.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,984 followers
April 22, 2017
I hated this book. There is so much I disliked about it that I'm not sure where to begin. I recognize that I am in the minority on this one and that many of my GR friends loved this novel, so there's no need to start screaming at me in the comments. This book just wasn't my cuppa, and that's OK. We're allowed to like different books.

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I think the thing I hated the most was the writing itself. The sentences were rough, uneven and felt unfinished.

I hated that even though the sentences and chapters were short and choppy, the book was 550 pages long! Two hundred pages could have been cut from this sucker, easily.

I hated how Zusak wrote the narrator Death, and how Death was constantly foreshadowing things. Dude, I get it, you're omniscient.

I hated that Zusak chose to put his cliched story about a girl who likes books against the backdrop of the Holocaust. It seemed like the author was milking a tragedy to try and make his book seem deeper than it is.

I hated that every scene was precious, oh so schmaltzy and precious!

I hated that the characters were all two-dimensional and none of them seemed real. They were just a collection of anecdotes.

I hated that the entire book felt like a pretentious writing exercise by some smarmy grad student.

This is the second YA novel that I've hated this year, and I'm taking a break from the genre. I don't need books that are dumbed down. I like complex stories and characters, and beautiful writing that makes me want to underline passages. There wasn't a single sentence in The Book Thief that made me pause and appreciate its construction. Not one.
Profile Image for She-who-must-not-be-named .
180 reviews1,474 followers
February 24, 2022
Solid plot? Check
Strong emotions? Check.
Resolute characters? Check.
Compelling narration? Double check.

The writing engrossed me. The concept of death narrating the story was eloquently put forward. Often, when you have very high expectations from a book, you may end up getting disappointed. But this book proved to be quite the opposite and I loved it immensely.

The story follows a nine-year-old girl called Liesel Meminger who along with her brother Werner, given up by her mother, is taken to a small town called Molching to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann prior to the events of World War II. During the journey, Werner dies due to mysterious reasons, possibly poverty and poor health and Liesel sets off to bury him. That is when she steals her first book, even though she does not know how to read and it's only the first of what is going to be a series of thefts. She gets accustomed to her foster parents' house despite having nightmares about her dead brother, and eventually learns to read. Her obsession with books intensifies as war closes in and air raids begin- depriving her of people she's grown to love profoundly.

The book exemplifies the power of words, how they can be beautiful yet exceedingly soul shattering. Liesel is illiterate when she was first taken in, but as she continues to explore the world of reading, she begins to comprehend the impact Hitler's propaganda has and how he is the reason behind her parents' death.

"I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."

She realises how manipulative words can be and tries to right them by writing for commiseration.

Overall, The Book Thief is a poignant and a heart rending tale and it's a surprise I'm still lucid. I rate this book five stars ✨
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
985 reviews12.8k followers
August 3, 2017
i have no words. never in my life have i sobbed so hard at a book. i had to put my knitting down, then i had to stop the audio book because i was crying too hard.
this book is no joke. i was going to give it 4 stars because i thought it was a little too long-winded but truly it is a masterpiece and thank you thank you thank you to everyone that persuaded me to read it.
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,532 followers
September 12, 2016
I write this review under severe duress.

Three-star books are always difficult to review, aren’t they? They are difficult for me, mostly because I am so dispassionate about them. It’s much easier to review something you love, or something you hate, rather than something you’ve half-forgotten before you even get to your local library’s return box.

So this book is fine. Fine. It’s the story of a young German girl caught in the path of the advancing Nazi regime during World War II. For many German villagers in the late 30s and early 40s, the Third Reich was like a quiet glacier, slowly encroaching on their lives—it moved languidly enough that disaster seemed never truly imminent (there is always plenty of time to get out of the way), yet it had enough momentum to churn to pulp anything that was unfortunate enough to meet its frothing jaws.

What annoyed me about this book, however, was its distracting style of storytelling. It is told from the point-of-view of the Grim Reaper, the personification of death. I would have actually been okay with this except Death is a grating little sonofabitch. He pretends to keep a distance from the German girl whose story he’s telling, representing himself as a disinterested party whose job is simply to harvest souls from their lifeless hosts, but over time he becomes clearly vested in her story, and for this he is a failure. I mean, if death and taxes are the only two things I can count on, and the IRS is a bullshit government arm that can’t find its asshole with a flashlight, then I need to be able to depend on Death not being a loser.

Additionally, I specifically detested the
* * * Things That Irritate Me * * *
1. These interjections.
2. Interjections like these.

interjections, which occur frequently in this novel.

That said, I think this book is important for its one shining success, which is to remind us that civilian populations of even aggressor countries are innocent victims. Try to keep this in mind the next time your idiot friend says something like, “Dude, we should totally just bomb the fuck out of [insert Middle Eastern country here].”

My cousin told me I had to review this book or she would sic the Andover Ladies of Literature on me and I do not wish to scuffle with those broads.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews149 followers
July 31, 2021
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is a 2005 historical novel by Australian author Markus Zusak and is his most popular work. Published in 2005, The Book Thief became an international bestseller and was translated into several languages. It was adapted into a 2013 feature film of the same name.

Narrated by Death, a male voice who over the course of the book proves to be morose yet caring, the plot follows Liesel Meminger as she comes of age in Nazi Germany during World War II.

After the death of her younger brother on a train to the fictional town of Molching, Germany, on the outskirts of Munich, Liesel arrives at the home of her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, distraught and withdrawn.

During her time there, she is exposed to the horrors of the Nazi regime, caught between the innocence of childhood and the maturity demanded by her destructive surroundings.

As the political situation in Germany deteriorates, her foster parents conceal a Jewish fist-fighter named Max Vandenburg.

Hans, who has developed a close relationship with Liesel, teaches her to read, first in her bedroom, then in the basement.

Recognizing the power of writing and sharing the written word, Liesel not only begins to steal books that the Nazi party is looking to destroy, but also writes her own story, and shares the power of language with Max.

Through collecting laundry for her foster mother, she also begins a relationship with the mayor's wife, Ilsa Hermann, who allows her to first read books in her library, and later, steal them. ...

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «کتاب دزد»؛ «دزد کتاب»؛ نویسنده: مارکوس زوساک؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: هشتم ماه سپتامبر سال 2012میلادی

عنوان: دزد کتاب؛ نویسنده: مارکوس زوساک؛ مترجم: عباس احمدی؛ تهران، گستر، 1389؛ در 458ص؛ شابک 9789645544926؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان استرالیا - سده 21م

عنوان: کتاب دزد؛ نویسنده: مارکوس زوساک؛ مترجم: آمنه نوبخت فر؛ تهران، شور، 1389؛ در 512ص؛ شابک 9786009067459؛

عنوان: کتاب دزد؛ نویسنده: مارکوس زوساک؛ مترجم: مرضیه خسروی؛ تهران، نگاه، 1393؛ در 575ص؛ شابک 9786003760066؛

داستان در آلمان نازی، پیش از جنگ جهانگیر دوم، و در زمان جنگ روایت میشود، در دوره ی کتابسوزان، و دوره ی پرآشوب، «لیزل» دختر نه ساله ای است، که با دزدیدن و خواندن کتاب، خود را سرگرم میکند.؛

نقل نمونه متن کتاب: (آن ماه‌های اول، مسلما سخت‌ترین ایام بودند؛ «لیزل» هر شب، کابوس می‌دید؛ چهره برادرش را؛ خیره‌ شده به کف اتاق؛ جیغ‌ زنان، غوطه‌ ور در تختش، در حالیکه در سیلابی از ملافه غرق می‌شد، از خواب می‌پرید؛ در طرف دیگر اتاق، تختی که قرار بود مال برادرش باشد، همچون قایقی در تاریکی شناور بود؛ با بازگشت هشیاری، تخت هم به آرامی در کف اتاق غرق می‌شد؛ این تصویر خیالی، کمکی به قضایا نمی‌کرد، و معمولا کمی طول می‌کشید، تا جیغ کشیدن، به پایان برسد؛ شاید تنها چیز خوبی که از این کابوس‌ها عاید می‌شد، این بود که پدر جدیدش، «هانس هابرمان»، را به اتاقش می‌آورد، تا آرامش کند، که دوستش داشته باشد؛ او هر شب می‌آمد، و کنارش می‌نشست؛ یکی دو دفعه ی اول، فقط همانجا نشست؛ غریبه‌ ای بود، تا تنهایی را نابود کند)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 26/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 07/05/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
June 21, 2021
Generous 3 star.

I feel like I should have liked this but I didn't.

I like that death was the narrator, that the main character liked books and the relationship between her and her Papa.

I was indifferent about the rest. I always feel heartless when I don't care about a WW2 book but... here I am.
Profile Image for Debra.
2,695 reviews35.7k followers
September 28, 2020
This is my all time favorite book! I thought Zusak hit it out of the ballpark with this book. It was beautiful, it was sad, it was poetic. It was all things that books should be. It was simply divine. I actually read this very fast and then got mad that I read it so fast because I did not want it to end. I loved the characters. This book made me think, feel, cry and cheer for the characters. There is such beauty in this book. A must read for anyone who loves to read.

This book is set during WWII Germany and tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Her younger brother has died and her mother has been "taken away." She has been taken in by a German couple who are scraping out a meager existence. Liesel learns to read with the help of her accordion playing foster father. She develops a love of books and cannot help stealing them when the opportunity presents itself. She forms a closed relationship with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. Liesel also forms another close friendship with a boy who has hair the color of lemons, Rudy Steiner. Two people who will have an impact on her life. "The Book Thief" is narrated by Death. It's an unlikely narrator, but a very appropriate one for a book set during the Holocaust.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,917 reviews16.9k followers
September 2, 2019
Very good.

Having Death as the narrator and having as a central protagonist a young girl in Nazi Germany make The Book Thief by Markus Zusak stand out from the crowd of books about Europe during World War II; this book is good not so much because of the story, but how the author tells it.

In the Book Thief, Zusak uses a rich, multi-layered blend of allegory, metaphor and symbolism to create amidst the dirt and depression of Germany during the late 30s and 40s a stark vision of historical and philosophical thoughtfulness. This international best seller features a healthy sense of dramatic irony, with the German setting and the strong use of script-like construction becoming reminiscent, vaguely, of Bertold Brecht, especially the sympathetic depiction of Marxists.

By using a surreal personification as a narrator, the author has softened the blow of the harsh setting and thus, incredibly, makes the characters more accessible and makes the reader approach an empathy with them that may otherwise be unavailable. I am reminded of Anthony Burgess’ comments about A Clockwork Orange and how he created the Nadsat language not just to add depth to his narration, but also to minimize the brutality of his story. In much the same way, Zusak has used Death as a narrator to ironically assuage the viciousness of the everyday life that Liesel and the Hubermanns experience in their quiet section of Nazi extremism.

Death is not just a narrator but also one of the characters. Telling a story from his vantage, about a group of Germans on Himmel (Heaven) Street amidst the moral flagellation of the Third Reich Zusak creates a fecundity of symbolic structure. I found myself getting lost in metaphoric possibilities. What did he mean by that? What could that symbolize? Yet the author does not over generalize or make universal declarations, his approach is far more subtle, and again Brechtian in it’s demystification for dramatic realism; the reader comes to know Liesel Meminger, not as an ultra-real snapshot, nor as a idealized German everygirl, but as an actress in a play, knowable and probable, but still a dramatic portrayal. Through the eyes of Death, Liesel enters from stage left and we follow her through stereotypical misadventures made hackneyed in the World War II genre, but also through the good, the bad, and the ugly that is histrionic enough to be believable and understandable as an expression of real life during Nazi Germany.

This is still, though, after all, a representative portrayal of an ugly time. The reader should not look for a Disney moment, there are few. Zusak peppers his chronicle with some scenes of comic relief, but he never lets you forget when and where the action takes place. Expectations of Hollywood commercial breaks will come and go unnoticed on this trip; and all to the credit of its creator, who has crafted that most rare of accomplishments: a commercial success and at the same time an artistic expression.

A very singular literary experience and an enjoyable journey with a young writer from whom we have much to expect.

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