Emily Rae Robles

the paradoxymoron

Book Review: The Book Thief

As an avid lover of the story form, I hate it when books are ruined for me in any way, even including the genre.  Nevertheless, I can’t resist sharing that The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is one of the saddest books I have read for quite a while.  Its unique narrative perspective combines with a moving account of life in Nazi Germany to create a powerful story about the strength of love.  The themes regarding the  nature of stories, life, and love are made even more effective by a most unusual narrator: Death.

The main character, also known as the book thief, is a young German girl named Liesel.  Her nickname, bestowed upon her both by Death and by her best friend Rudy, originates from the several books she steals over the years–some accidentally, others intentionally.  Because of her affinity for books, Liesel is able to build relationships with her foster father (with whom she spends a great deal of time reading,) her friend Rudy (with whom she steals some of the books,) the mayors wife (from whom she both steals and borrows,) and perhaps most importantly, a Jew named Max whom her family hides in their basement.  Through all of these people, but especially through her illegal friendship with a legally declared less-than-human, Liesel learns the power of love and the power of a story, an interesting moral to hear from the mouth of Death.

Zusak crafts a compelling tale that draws the reader close to the characters, making their pain even more deeply felt by the readers.  The narrative structure additionally tugs at the heartstrings because of Death’s unique way of communicating.  The story is not always told linearly; often details are given away before they actually occur.  Death also often interjects his own point of view into the story, creating a narrator who is omniscient in a truly superhuman meaning of the word.

From beginning to end to middle, The Book Thief illuminates the beauty in life even in the midst of one of history’s most horrific times.  As Liesel and her family and friends demonstrate, it is the small but powerful connections between people that make life worth living–even Death agrees.  In this case, the connections are made not only through books, but through stories in general.  Liesel’s story is one of survival, in stark contrast to the underlying presence of Death.  As Death points out, it is the exceptions to his rule that he notices–and Liesel is definitely an exception.  However, it is also those who are not the exceptions but who succumb to the power of the narrator over the course of the story that the reader notices.  While the survivors pull at Death’s heartstrings (yes, as he points out, he has a heart,) even he notices the tragedies he brings on.

Despite the overwhelming presence of Death in The Book Thief, it is the life that is most memorable–the life of Liesel.  Her stories and the stories she affects will stay with the reader long after the book is completed.  The Book Thief is definitely a story that will steal your heart.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | book review | , | Leave a comment