Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 550
Publisher: Alfred P. Knopf
Notable Notables: Unconventional narrator, Nazi Germany, Holocaust remembrance, Censorship
Recommended Readers: Everyone
[This review was originally published on Goodreads.]
Edit: It seems only fitting that my first book review for Where the Words Take Me, a self-proclaimed open love letter to books, should begin with a story about a girl with her own love affair, stealing books from Nazi book burnings. I couldn’t have been more transparent than if I’d chosen Fahrenheit 451.
Allow me to start by saying that I’m one of those people who enjoys studying World War II, having a morbid fascination with the psychology behind Hitler’s Nazi Germany and everything that happened there. Naturally, accounts from Holocaust survivors or historical fiction about the Holocaust is something I find of great importance for us as members of society to read and remember. Because these survivors are dying from old age, and the voice of Holocaust deniers are, unfortunately, growing stronger. We have to keep reading stories like this, for history’s sake if not just for our own.
I’ve read a couple other Holocaust stories in the past: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, The Devil’s Arithmatic by Jane Yolen, and Night by Elie Wiesel. Even when talking about the same event, each of these books have different perspectives in ages and gender as well as different tones on how to approach the Holocaust and the horrors that happened there. Each of these books, however, comes from a Jewish perspective. The Book Thief, on the other hand, is told from two other main perspectives: Death’s and the sympathetic German perspective.
The book is framed as a retelling of events from the point of view of Death, and Zusak does this in such a way that he makes Death appear—not morbid as one might expect—but simply tired and overworked. In many ways, Death’s narration gives the book an ironic sort of humor and gives it a more light-hearted feel than one would normally expect in a novel about the Holocaust.
But this book isn’t just about the Holocaust. It’s about Gemany at the time of Hitler’s ascension and that of the Nazi Party. It’s about a young German girl who has to cope with being abandoned by her mother to live with a new German family, a girl who has a sudden love for stealing books and learning and using the written word, a technique Hitler also perfected to move the masses of Germany to his side. It’s about a young German boy who wishes he could be Jesse Owens, the first African American man to be admitted into the Olympics. It’s about a German mother who only knows how to show her love through a coarse demeanor and calling those she loves Saumensch as they’re walking down the street. It’s about a German father who knows that what Hitler is doing is wrong and makes a bold move to make a difference. It’s about a Jewish man who takes a leap of faith and trusts a German family to hide him when no one else will.
It’s about the bonds between humanity and how fragile those bonds can be. It’s about an accordion. It’s about words.
Truly, the book is an incredible read. The story’s characters are so rich and memorable, down to Pfiffikus, who is mentioned only briefly for his whistling and foul language. There is absolutely no character that I don’t love. They’re all just fantastic. The book also uses German words and phrases throughout the story, which is pretty fun to read and learn about, especially since the author is careful to make clear what these words mean. I truly recommend this book to every person who ever lived ever. Truly.
Fair warning, though. The book is split into ten parts; each part is about fifty pages each. The first nine parts are uplifting or fun to read at best and a little ominous or foreboding at worse. Part ten, though, will punch you in the gut and leave you crying like a child on the floor. Take it from someone who doesn’t cry a lot. Part ten is a doozy. But there were happy tears as much as sad ones, and I highly recommend that no one puts this book off just because it “might be sad, and I don’t like to read sad things.” Do not deprive yourself of this beautiful story just because of fear alone. I won’t tell you what happens, just know that whatever it is, that it is coming and…just brace yourself.