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Book Review: The Book Thief

A story about a young girl growing up in Germany during World War II

March 16, 2021

Written by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief is considered a classic. This book is split into ten parts and an epilogue. The Book Thief is a story about a young girl growing up in Germany during World War II. It is told from the point of view of Death, and the novel revolves around his relationship with Liesel Meminger. Liesel and her little brother were on a train to their new home with the Hubermanns. The young boy died on the train, and while collecting his soul, Death notices Leisel. Death stayed and watched Leisel, soon taking an interest in her. 

The author personifies death and the story is told from Death’s point of view. I am really enjoying this story, however, it is a bit of a slower read. It can be a little confusing because Death skips around on the timeline when telling the story. Death also leaves ‘notes’ for the reader when things are said in German or when foreshadowing. Death is one of my favorite characters in this novel, as he is sarcastic with a dark sense of humor. People often think of death as cold and empty, maybe even evil; throughout World War II, Death expresses his remorse and weariness of taking one’s soul. 

Liesel Meminger is the main character. She has a deep love for words, which all starts when she is placed into the younger kids’ class because she can’t read. Liesel begins having nightmares and when she wakes, her stepfather teaches her how to read and write. They stay up into the late hours of the night and early morning. Her stepfather Hans is a kind and gentle man with strong morals, and their relationship is one of the most touching aspects of the story. Liesel’s best friend, Rudy Steiner, is athletic and intelligent. He quickly falls in love with Leisel and is always by her side. The dynamic of the two provides a bright spot in an otherwise dark time. 

So far, I have liked this book and look forward to finishing it soon! Check-in next week for parts 4-6.

 

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The Book Thief Parts 4-6

This section of The Book Thief explains how things have gotten worse in Nazi Germany. Rosa Hubermann, Liesel’s stepmother, runs a laundry business. Over the last few chapters, more and more people begin declining her service. Liesel builds a relationship with the mayor’s wife, Ilsa Hermann, who is one of Rosa’s clients. Ilsa introduces Liesel to her library, and now, Liesel sits and reads after dropping off the clothes to the few remaining clients. However, Ilsa and the mayor fire Rosa, leaving the Hubermann’s with little to no source of income. Liesel is furious. She yells at the mayor’s wife and says horrible things to the woman. Upon returning home, Liesel shares the news with Rosa and tries to take the blame for the loss of another customer, but Rosa knows better. 

To add to the Hubermanns stress, they take in a Jewish man named Max Vandenburg, who Hans Hubermann knew long ago. Things go fairly well with Max until he becomes seriously ill. To make matters worse, Rudy is sent to a Nazi Youth Camp. He hates it there and eventually stops going. To stay out of trouble, Rudy’s parents switch him to an aircraft and flying training camp (which Rudy seems to like much better). Liesel and Rudy begin stealing as a way to escape the stress and worries of life. Previously, they had only done it a few times to get food. Now, Liesel and Rudy take it a step further and sneak into the mayor’s house. The first time doing it, Liesel steals the book she was reading with Ilsa. The second time, Leisel takes another book so that she can read to Max in his vulnerable state.

Max is a kind man with a heavy heart. He feels guilty about leaving his family behind and he apologizes several times to the Hubermanns for being a burden. Over the course of time, Max and Leisel grow very close. They realize they have many things in common and try to comfort one another.

As Mr. and Mrs. Hubermann begin to plan for the worst, Max miraculously wakes up. Now, they think everything will be okay until they catch wind that Nazis are going into people’s homes to inspect their basements and see if they can be used as air-raid shelters. Max had been staying in the Hubermanns basement before getting sick, and it was never cleaned out. Before they have time to concoct a plan, a Nazi is knocking on their door. They opt to act carefree and hope that the Nazi doesn’t suspect anything. As far as we know, he doesn’t. The Nazi leaves with a smile.

 Part six concludes with Death explaining that bombs are being dropped and that they are getting closer to Munich. Death also hints at a few characters’ untimely endings throughout this section of the story. This part leaves off on a cliffhanger of some sort. I’m itching to find out what happens to each of the characters. Will Max stay awake? Will Rudy and Leisel get caught stealing from the mayor? Will Leisel accidentally tell someone about Max? Who will survive the bombings? The action is picking up, and I’m certainly eager to find out what will happen next. 

 

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The Book Thief Parts 7-10 and Epilogue

The final section of this novel was heartfelt and emotional. The war escalates and families experience food and work shortages. Max paints over pages of a book he brought with him and writes his own story for Liesel, The Standover Man, which is a heartfelt story about his past and his friendship with Liesel. Bombings get closer to Molching and people take shelter in a neighbor’s basement. To calm everyone, Liesel reads aloud while everyone silently waits for the safety sirens. 

As time passes and the war intensifies, Jewish prisoners begin being paraded around town on their way to the concentration camp at Dachau. Hans sees an old man struggling and gives him some bread, however, a Nazi spots him and whips both the old man and Hans. Hans soon realizes that he’s drawn attention to himself, putting Max in danger. Max leaves Hans and Rosa’s house, making Hans feel extremely guilty. Hans worries that Nazis will come to inspect him, instead, they go to the Steiner’s home. They want to recruit Rudy for a school for future Nazi leaders. Rudy’s father, Alex, refuses to let them take Rudy. A few days later, Alex and Hans are drafted into the army. At the next parade of Jews, Rudy and Liesel scatter bread in the streets for the Jews. Upon seeing how distraught Liesel is about losing Max, Rosa decides to give Liesel the book Max wrote for her called The Word Shaker.

After another air raid, Liesel and Rudy find the crashed plane of an Allied fighter pilot. They arrive just as he is about to die, and they try to offer some support and comfort. Death sees Liesel for the second time while collecting the pilot’s soul. The Nazis continue marching Jews through the streets and Liesel finally finds Max in one of the crowds. Liesel tells Rudy about hiding Max in her basement, which she had never told anyone before. 

The book has a beautiful, yet tragic ending, ultimately fitting the overall nature of the novel in a very poignant way. This was an incredible read, one from which I think everyone would benefit. Often in learning about World War II, it’s easy to associate all of Germany with evil. This story opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone in Germany was bad. Many of the people were like us, trying to find peace in a chaotic world. I recommend this novel, especially to those who enjoy learning about the Second World War and historical reads.

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