The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
reviewed by Maria Luiso
Markus Zusak’s historical fiction novel The Book Thief uses unexpected points of view to convey a fresh and compelling view of Nazi Germany. The book centers around Liesel Meminger, a young girl living in Germany during Hitler’s reign who learns to read and discovers the power of words. The story is narrated in first person by Death itself, which is especially striking considering the setting of the book. Liesel’s interest in books and Death’s interest in Liesel come together into a story that show how beautiful and terrible living in war can be.
In winter of 1939, Liesel Meminger and her brother Werner are sent to live with Rosa and Hans Huberman. Her brother dies on the way there, which is when Death first sees Liesel, and she commits her first book thievery- she steals the handbook that the gravediggers used to bury her brother. Liesel settles into life in her new home, Himmel Street in Germany, under Hitler’s rule. She learns to love her foster mother, Rosa, a strong personality who shows her love for the girl through curse words, her foster father, Hans, who earns Liesel’s trust through his gentle care and teaches her how to read, and her best friend, Rudy Steiner, a boy her age who is desperate for a kiss from Liesel. Her mostly normal life is disrupted when Max Vanderburg, the Jewish son of Han’s friend, comes to Himmel street to hide from the Nazis in the Huberman house. Liesel and her foster parents must try to continue living their normal lives while attempting to protect Max’s life- and their own. As time goes on and the war grows worse, a steady friendship built on books grows between Max and Liesel, and Liesel finds that there is great and terrible power in words.
The Book Thief is one of my favorite novels of all time. Zusak’s use of figurative language and suspense throughout is masterful. Metaphor is used frequently in The Book Thief, and it creates some of the most beautiful images in the book, such as Liesel seeing Hans’ eyes as silver and describing them as hardening, melting, and corroding at different points in the book. This imagery provides characterization and gives reader an idea of what Hans is like and how he is feeling without having it said outright. Because the novel is historical fiction, there is a lack of suspense already. Zusak goes even further with that by having Death tell readers the ending of the story within the first few chapters. Although unconventional, this lack of suspense is appropriate, because we also know how our own stories will end- with death.