Book Review: The Book Thief

Background Information

Full Title:  The Book Thief

Publisher and Date:  Knopf, 2005

Author:  Markus Zusak Death asked Life

Plot Summary

1939 is not a pleasant time in Germany.  Adolf Hitler is constructing his empire, and death has never been busier.  Liesel Meminger becomes very acquainted with death, who will steal many things from her over the course of her life. Liesel is a Jewish child living under foster care just outside the limits of Munich, Germany. She acquires a habit for book thievery after her foster father teaches her to read.  While living in foster care, Liesel meets many people who shape her life, including a Jewish refugee and a boy with hair the color of lemons, who becomes her best friend as well as partner in crime.

Thoughts on Style

This book is narrated from the perspective of death, a very fitting story deliverer given the time period.  Having read many reviews on this book, it has become clear to me that readers either love or hate this style.  Personally, I loved it. Death is authentically artistic, and his commentary rings with truth.  Death makes himself very present throughout the book, and his narration adds a certain aspect of reality to the entire story.  Death does not attempt to moderate the horror as it is happening, but merely tells it with a touch and humor that makes it almost bearable.

Another fascinating aspect of this book can be found in Zusak’s wondrous discussion of words.  Liesel’s foster father teaches her to read and afterwards she  begins to steal books. She also reads the books written by Max, the Jew who stays in the home of her foster parents.  Max’s books show her how Hitler used words to start his takeover causing  Liesel to question whether words are good or bad.  As more and more horrible events begin to unfold for Liesel, she comes to the conclusion that without words, none of this would have happened.  Leisel struggles with this idea throughout the book, and finally comes to peace with words, believing that they in and of themselves are incredibly powerful, and it is how we use them that determines whether they are good or bad.  Liesel writes her own story near the end of the book, and death later collects it.  The final sentence of Liesel’s writing is, as we are told by death: “I have hated words and I have loved them, and in the end I hope I have made them right.”


The worldview of death is one of the most fascinating I have come across in my literary travels. Death claims to take the soul of someone once they die, but does not say where he takes these souls.  He does, however, describe the variable types of souls he meets and how willing they are to come with him.

Death views humanity in a very fair and unbiased manner, a view that is tragically rare in both literature and the outside world today. Death particularly comments on how beautiful humanity is, yet how ugly at the same time. This fact confounds him, and his final words to the reader are that he is “haunted by humans.”

Age Appropriate/ Content

The topic of this book is the second World War, and there is no attempt made on Death’s part to tone down the violence.  There are a fair amount of deaths within this book, and while they are not described in a large amount of detail,  there are a fair amount of them.  Many loved characters are killed, and there are also beatings, whippings, fist fights, and a suicide.  The book’s intensity and poignancy  may make it a less pleasurable read for younger children.

cursing is quite common throughout the book, mostly in German,  S–t, however, is used in English, as well as numerous religious exclamations, such as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  Otherwise, swearing is quite frequent, but in German.

Age Recommendation  13+(This is based mainly on the intensity level of the book; some children may be able to handle this book at an earlier age.)

Final Thoughts    

This book was amazing.  The writing was beautiful, and the story was handled by the perfect narrator for it.

A strong statement on humanity’s self destructive force, the power of words, and how we deal with tragedy, the Book Thief is a highly informative and incredibly powerful book, which will leave the reader thinking long after the last page.

Final Rating 4.6  of 5 stars






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