A Review of The Book Thief: Reflections of a Wannabe Book Thief

Ali MerrillSeptember 3, 2018Finding Your Spirit in ArtMedia

From the first pages of Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief, I knew that the young Liesel Meminger had a starving smile.

A smile yearning for happiness, although she always gratefully accepted what she was given. Liesel’s soul was spotless, white, and beautiful. Perhaps that’s exactly why Death seemed to be so attracted to the young German child. Very soon, however, her sheltered home erupted into something much more dark, cascading into a greater world. An evil world. A Nazi world.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is an astonishing story that seems to contain every genre possible. From romance, to tragedy, to humor, to historical fiction, The Book Thief encompasses it all.

Once I was introduced to Liesel, I could feel my hands clasp tighter to the book’s binding. The very moment Liesel Meminger arrives on Himmel Street, Germany, her dead brother’s eyes continue to haunt her. After her mother intends to transport Liesel, as well as her brother, to a foster family, tragedy strikes, and alters her life forever. Even with the enormous dilemma of her brother’s death, Liesel is forced to overlook her sorrow, and is compelled to continue onward to her new home, her new parents, her new world. Yet there is one thing that binds the strong young girl together: a mere book. Ironically, Liesel is illiterate, yet her absolute adoration of literature is touching. She soon arrives in the secluded town, and is welcomed by her new family: Hans and Rosa Hubermann. While Hans, a gentle accordionist, soothes her cold nightmares, Liesel’s foster mother is far more brutal. As Hans begins his late night reading lessons with Liesel, the German family’s sequestered town is gradually utterly engulfed by the enormous plague sweeping the world: Hitler’s words and the actions that come of them. Liesel’s surreal perspective on both life and death soon alters. Liesel’s giddy outlook on life, her pleasant home and family, soon morph into something entirely different: the will to survive.

All the while, Liesel is having a minor love affair, yet with an unexpected item: books. Once her current book becomes tattered and worn, it comes time to steal yet another story. However, she only steals when needed, and this is exactly what I admired most about the young book thief, her perspective on the process of give and take. She took so little, yet returned great love and passion to the world. Liesel knew precisely what she required for herself, yet also knew what to reward those surrounding her. I began the story utterly furious with Liesel and her will to only take so much, when she deserved so much more.

Yet in the end, I came to a cold, stone truth: I was envious of the poor, nearly starving child. Unlike Liesel, I seem to devour everything that would give me any form of benefit, and when it comes time to give something back, I do it merely because I feel I am so very generous, and should be praised. Yet Liesel is a unique young lady. She gives back to the world not because it makes her feel generous, or she feels she deserves to be commended, but because it is merely the right thing for her to do. If there is a God, perhaps there shouldn’t be religion simply because we should all feel compelled to live under Liesel’s code: when she does right, it feels like, and is, the right thing. When she does wrong, it feels, and is wrong.

Liesel and her foster family soon find themselves within the tricky predicament of hiding a Jew named Max. Liesel unveils more and more of herself to her new, dangerous Jewish friend, and also discovers what might happen to those who try to help him. The Book Thief not only revealed to me what was being described, but also let me touch it, emotionally. My favorite attribute of the book, was its writing ability that twisted and turned its reader.

This story gave me a challenge. A great challenge. Markus Zusak creates an evocative and wry portrayal of death, and a sense of what evil, and what beauty really is. The Book Thief unlocked sections of myself I truthfully didn’t know existed. It’s ironic. You can find yourself through losing yourself within The Book Thief.