The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
reviewed by Julia Powers
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak tells the story of a young girl, named Liesel, and her life growing up in the midst of World War II. The story of Liesel’s life in Nazi Germany is told from the viewpoint of Death who comments often about himself and about the brave girl’s actions.
Liesel lives an unfortunate life where she experiences loss constantly, but these losses help her to become who she is; a book thief. While Liesel and her brother are traveling to meet new foster parents, the young boy dies unexpectedly. His funeral is where Liesel takes her first book, and where her love of words emerges. She steals books not only for the words and knowledge, but to make up for all that has been taken from her. Liesel meets her new parents and, eventually, love for them grows, as does the hate towards Jews as the war progresses. These prejudices against Jews soon become a problem for the new family when they decide to hide their Jewish friend under the old wooden stairs of the family’s basement. Liesel creates a strong and hazardous friendship with the Jew, one that may end up hurting her as the Germans try to gas the Jews out of the country.
Another main character in The Book Thief is Death, the helper of our world’s greatest enemies and an angel at the same time. At every person’s passing, he takes the soul gently from its body and watches as it melts comfortingly into his arms. Death is an interesting character within the pages of this novel and, as the story goes on, a reader can begin to see how much a slave Death really is, constantly caring for lost souls. He enjoys when humans live out their lives to the fullest and slumps his head when bombs end the lives of small children. “So much good, so much evil” (Zusak 164) says Death about human nature.
The Book Thief shows the struggles of a young girl who reminds us of our humanity and how we can be brave, unwise, miserable, or hopeful much like a child. Through the work of several characters, Markus Zusak illustrates the power of words and the significance of death. Liesel shows that life goes on. She lived in a country and a time of devastating human suffering, yet she found profound joy in the stolen words and hearts of others.