Why I Liked The Book Thief (A Book Review)


The other day I finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  This was my first completed book of 2011 (although I started it in 2010 and I’ve already read way less than I had at this point in 2010 or 2009)!

If you’ve heard good things about this book, you’ve heard correctly.  It is set in Germany during World War II and the years leading up to the war, but it’s not your typical WWII/Holocaust novel.  Instead, it tells the story of a young German girl who is taken in by some (also German) foster parents.  Through the experiences of this girl, her new family, and the rest of the people of their small village, you really begin to see how good people could have gotten swept up in the craziness of Nazi Germany.

One thing I really appreciate is the depth given to almost all of the characters.  Very few of the people in the novel are completely good or completely bad (much like real life).  They are all just people, doing their best protect their families and their livelihoods in the best way they know how, and for much of the book they are mostly unaware of the atrocities taking place in their country.

One of the lingering warnings we gain from the Holocaust is the danger of demonizing an entire culture or race, but how often in the media are Germans of the 1930s and 40s demonized?  I know in most of the movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read there are very few Germans painted in a sympathetic light.  This is comparing apples to oranges, no doubt, but it’s still an interesting thing to consider and something I think the book does very well.  Zusak allows his characters to be human, with all the shades of gray that come with that.

The last interesting thing to note is the choice of narrator – Death.  Somehow the author manages to make a book narrated by death neither morbid nor irreverent, which is something I am sure I would not be able to do.  Death itself seems to have a character and motivations and a desire to be understood, which I find incredibly interesting.

Given the time and place, this is not a happy, light-hearted read, but it is one that is worthwhile both for its literary value (Zusak definitely has a way with words) and the unique perspective it gives to a time in history that has been written about prolifically.

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