The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is ‘The Gravedigger’s Handbook’, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affairs with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

The Book Thief was my big read in middle school. Recently released and handling a topic that I’d rarely heard people talk about (death, not Nazi Germany). While I loved it, I definitely didn’t have the type of critical analysis that I have with reading today.

Zusak writes from the perspective of death – personifies death – with beautiful style that makes it seem practical and natural without losing the pain and sadness it brings. Most importantly, Zusak doesn’t excuse human agency and our role in bringing death into our homes and countries.

I used to think that I liked war novels because they give credence to an experience that I don’t, and hopefully, never will, know first-hand. But now I think that I have always liked war novels that are intrinsically anti-war. I’d put The Book Thief in that category if only because of its ending – the line where death confesses: “I’m haunted by humans”. The kind of sentiment that suggests human beings are far more violent, unpredictable, and deadly than death itself.

I think some people would find the character development over-bearing but it made me care a lot about every person that crossed the pages. The Book Thief has the type of loving fan base that is well earned and deserves a read by everyone not already a fan.

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