The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Book Review

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Book Review

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

Author – Markus Zusak
Publisher – Alfred A. Knopf
Pages – 552
Released – 1st September 2005
ISBN-13 – 978-1909531611
Format – ebook, paperback, audio
Review by – Clive
Rating – 5 Stars
As befits the Book Thief I cannot say how I acquired my copy
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It is 1939. In Nazi Germany, the country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier – and will become busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed forever when she picks up a single object, abandoned in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and this is her first act of book thievery. So begins Liesel’s love affair with books and words, and soon she is stealing from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library . . . wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times, and when Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, nothing will ever be the same again.

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I am embarrassed to admit that I cannot say how I acquired this book but I have to say that I am delighted that it entered my possession. Let me explain. We have a small shelf at home which holds the physical books that are sent to us from Whispering Stories, pending their review. The Book Thief was on the shelf, Julie knew nothing about it, so I assumed it was for me. I read it, then discovered that it had not been sent from Whispering Stories. So how did it get there? I have a vague memory of someone telling me a few months ago that they had a book I might like but I cannot recall who that was.

All this is relevant because although Liesel undoubtedly stole the books, most of them almost presented themselves to be stolen. Just as my copy appears to have made its way to me!

And how happy did that make me, because The Book Thief has to be one of the best three reads I have enjoyed this year. It is a bittersweet tale of life in a small German town during the Second World War, viewed from the eyes of a girl, fostered out to a foul mouthed middle aged woman and her husband. Those of us who live in the UK are all aware of the rationing and hardships here during those times but if Zusak’s description of his fictional Molching is accurate, the ordinary German people were very, very poor. Maybe things were better in the cities and for party members but for Liesel and her neighbours there was little more to eat than pea soup and dry bread.

Markus Zusak uses many literary devices to recount his tale of Liesel, her foster family and her neighbours; some of them quite unusual. Firstly the story is narrated by Death, an ethereal being that travels the world collecting up the souls of dying humans. A strange choice of narrator but it gives Zusak the perfect storyteller who would visit Liesel’s adopted town so many times during the story.

Other literary devices include occasional simple sketches and little announcements in parentheses, centrally justified and in bold type; either drawing our attention to salient facts or to fill us in with some background detail. If you are of a certain age, these will remind you of little snippets in The Reader’s Digest. I found these items useful and a handy break in the text but I am aware that this has not been to everyone’s taste.

Also, Markus Zusak has not been afraid to foreshadow the plot. Indeed, on many occasions Death tells us who he will be collecting in the future but somehow this does not spoil the story at all.

Since I read the book it seems that I’m about the only person never to see the 2013 movie and that was to my advantage. How could they cast Emily Watson as Rosa?

The book has been published with at least three front covers; my copy was the Film Tie-in Enhanced Edition and I believe the one above was the original. There is also a rather spooky cover with Death and Liesel skipping along.

The Book Thief is a multiple award winning work and deservedly so. It just has to be five stars.

Book Reviewer – Clive

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About the Author


MARKUS ZUSAK is the bestselling author of six novels, including THE BOOK THIEF. His books have been translated into more than forty languages, to both popular and critical acclaim. He lives in Sydney with his wife and two children.

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