Death is pretty busy in Germany during World War II. But one child he encounters, as he takes her little brother's soul away, has a bigger effect on him than all the others. In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak tells the story of this girl, Liesel Meminger, from the perspective of Death himself. From her brother's death, to her childhood living with a foster family in Germany during the war, Death narrates the story of this girl who just cannot resist her desire for books.
Liesel becomes very close to her foster father, Papa, a painter who plays the accordion and is one of the few in the neighborhood who is not part of the Nazi party. Despite his own meager skills, he teaches her to read, thus fueling her need for more books. Her foster mother is much more gruff but it's clear that she cares for Liesel, despite her frequent swearing at the girl. Then there is Liesel's best friend, who becomes her partner in crime, and the Jew who hides in their basement for some time. I just loved the whole cast of characters. Zusak did a wonderful job creating personalities and relationships that were often complex yet quite refreshing.
This is such a uniquely written book, not just because it is written from the voice of Death, but because of the actual format in which it is written. There are many instances of words pulled out of the narrative, centered on the page and highlighted in bold. At times, these are definitions of terms. At other times, they are key points that Death wants the reader to remember. There's also a lot of foreshadowing. Death often tells the reader what is going to happen before it actually happens. But this actually works, and is yet another example of a unique writing style.
If you enjoy historical fiction, I think you'll like this one. It offers what seems to be a realistic account of life in Germany during World War II, as revealed through interesting and compelling characters. At times, the story was a bit slow, but overall I really enjoyed it. It's considered young adult fiction, which is a genre I don't often read. But I think it's written more for adults, honestly. So even if you're not a YA reader, I do think you should try it out.
My Rating: 4/5
For more information, visit the author's website
Read an excerpt
Reading group guide for The Book Thief
This review was written based on a copy of The Book Thief that I obtained through Paperback Swap.