The Book Thief

A review of the book by Markus Zusak.

Before I get too deeply into this review I must reveal a book I previously read that I hope does not unfairly influence this appraisal. The book is Terry Pratchett’s Mort. If you’ve read it you might already understand; if not, then I’d better explain.

In both books Death is treated not merely as the end of life but as a character, with consciousness and will of his own and in The Book Thief, he is the narrator although the book. A book by a teenage girl, living in a small town in Germany during the second world war. Also in both books, Death is not a grim character and the taker of life, merely the conductor of souls into the ‘next life’.

The Book Thief presents to its reader a story set in the second world war, when Germany was ruled by Hitler and in the grip of Nazism. It is the travails of a young girl Lisel Meminger, who twice in her life before she reaches adulthood loses everyone whom she loves and is dear to her. Liesel’s troubles begin from almost the very start of the book, though she proves to be an incredibly resilient young lady. When we first meet her, she is just 9 years old.

I think I should also tell you that the eponymous book thief does not misappropriate books gratuitously or from greed, storing up her own library. When Lisel Meminger steals a book, there is a reason for it. Arguably, her most important book is not one she steals but the one she wrote.

I had a little trouble with some of Markus Zusak’s more descriptive elements and metaphors that he chose to employ in his story, finding them a little incongruous at certain points. Nevertheless, he conveys an interesting sense of what life might have been like in small town Germany for the men and women who were loyal to their homeland, but were not Nazis. In one instance even a broken leg was a cause for celebration, that could happen only in wartime.

I am of course reviewing this book as someone who was born after the war in question and have only second hand accounts of life in those times, although both my parents gave military service in the war.

Even with some of Markus Zusak’s, to me sightly disconcerting, way of describing some of the events, It is a story that draws you in and makes you want to keep reading.

“A small piece of truth.”
“I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.
And I don’t have those skull-like
features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
Want to know what I truly look like?
I’ll help you out. Find yourself
a mirror while I continue.”

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