I’ve read this three times now, and it still astonishes me. This is one of my favorite books ever. There. That’s my review.
What, that’s not enough information? Well then, allow me to gush.
The Book Thief is a masterpiece. Markus Zusak tells us the story—set during the Second World War—of a girl named Liesel Meminger, who goes to a small town outside Munich to live with foster parents. On the way, her younger brother dies. At his burial, Liesel impulsively steals a book from a grave digger. Once settled in her new home, she starts to learn how to read it. Though the conflict in Europe is escalating, her foster parents, Rosa and Hans, agree to hide a Jewish man, Max, in their basement. Liesel bonds with Max quickly, and through their friendship, she learns how powerful—and dangerous—words are.
First of all, I adore the characters. Liesel is a marvelous protagonist, very sweet and thoughtful and strong. She goes through so much but never loses her childlike wonder at stories. Hans and Rosa are wonderful if rather unconventional parents, Liesel’s friend Rudy provides both laughter and heartbreak, and Max makes you believe in the strength of humanity. And all the side characters hold their own and are amazing.
The historical elements are excellent, accurate, and give this tale a dark tone. Zusak understands that some things cannot be sugar-coated, so he doesn’t shy away from showing the tragedy, violence, and evil of Nazi Germany. The themes he tackles are difficult but well handled. WWII was such an awful time, and yet Zusak shows us that even out of suffering, incredible things can occur.
And the writing. Is stunning. The imagery is simply astounding. Zusak has such an innovative way of describing actions, emotions, and events. He’s very poetic and possesses a rather unique voice. It’s captivating to read.
A lot of why this book draws me in—other than the plot, characters, and all-around fantastic writing—is the narrator. When I first read this book, I expected it to be Liesel from the description. But it’s not; Death tells us the story from his/her/their POV. And what a POV it is. Considering the time period, this is an appropriate, if sobering, choice. Death has a fascinating voice—providing us a different, wider perspective than what Liesel can give. And Death actually has a lot of… personality, if that’s the right word. Their voice can be strangely charismatic sometimes, strangely familiar. …That sounds weird, doesn’t it? Oh, well. I’m not taking it back.
I could discuss all the plot points, each character, and every single line in this book in detail, but we don’t have time for that. That said, this would be an excellent read for a book club.
In the end, The Book Thief is one of the most heartbreaking, gorgeous, spectacular novels I have ever read. I didn’t want to stop holding it after finishing; I just wanted to have it near me even when not actively reading it. Every element is stellar: characters, story, writing, narration, pacing, tone, themes, everything. This book is a celebration of words—but at the same time, warning us of their danger. Because while Liesel uses them in a way that empowers her, all around her, people use words to incite violence. To paraphrase something Death says, The Book Thief is ugly and glorious, damning and brilliant. And I adore it.
Overall rating: 10/10
Yeah, that’s right. I went there. A perfect score. I love you, Markus Zusak.
Fun fact: This is the first time I’ve read this book without a four month gap between the first half and the second. The first two times I read it, I was still in school and didn’t have time during the semester for leisure reading. So finally I read this in a few days—much more reasonable.