Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

Publication date: September 8th 2007
Publisher: Black Swan (first published 2005)
Pages: 554



1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with her foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.


It’s a small story, about:

a girl

an accordionist

some fanatical Germans

a Jewish fist fighter

and quite a lot of thievery.


Source: Goodreads


“The Book Thief” has been on my shelf for months if not years, because for some unknown reason I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Its a big book, but it’s worth it.

Narrated by Death himself, this book tells the story of Liesel, a young girl fostered by Rosa and Hans Hubermann while living in Germany between 1939 and 1943. While parts of the plot were predictably gloomy (we all know what happened in World War II), Liesel’s story isn’t as bleak as you might expect and I was glad to be reading something so enlightening each morning on my daily commute.

As German citizens, the residents of Himmel Street have conflicting views on the war. They’re confused by Hitler’s reign, torn between wanting to conform and wanting to do what’s right. It was such a refreshing change for me to see a war story from this perspective and I was grateful for the splatter of German words and phrases throughout. These were actually translated, which doesn’t always happen in literature, so you never feel isolated or lost by a language barrier, you feel a part of the story.

I loved each of the characters and enjoyed exploring their looks and personalities through a child’s eyes. From school boy Rudy to Max, a Jew in hiding, each person is so complex, battling their own way through such an ugly time in history. They’re heroic, they’re brave and they’re compassionate.

This book read so differently to anything I’ve read before. With handwritten stories and illustrations, a series of chapters labelled by the numbers on a dice, flashbacks and leaps forward, the narration was perfect right until the emotional end.

“The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”

I did find that I skimmed a couple of chapters that couldn’t hold my attention. Not much really happens in a few of the middle parts, but these weren’t critical to the plot and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out in doing this.

Now I’ve finished the book, I can’t wait to give the movie adaptation a try, although I’m not sure anyone could live up to my imagination’s version of Hans.

““Papa!” she whispered. “I have no eyes!”

He patted the girl’s hair. She’d fallen into his trap. “With a smile like that,” Hans Hubermann said, “you don’t need eyes.””

Overall rating: A beautiful story told from an interesting perspective on WWII. You can’t help but fall in love with the characters and the story draws you in until its heart-wrenching end. It’s 4 stars for “The Book Thief”, a story I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

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