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Unraveling The Boundaries of Humanity and Inhumanity: A Review of ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak

book review

Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” is a novel that confronts the harsh realities of war, yet offers an intimate exploration of human goodness in the face of cruelty. Through the unlikely narrative perspective of Death itself, this groundbreaking novel paints a grim picture of Nazi Germany that resonates with history while challenging and captivating the reader.

Plot Summary

Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, “The Book Thief” chronicles the life of Liesel Meminger, a young girl living with her foster parents, the Hubermanns, in the small town of Molching. Liesel’s life takes an unusual turn when she discovers her fascination with words and literature, ignited during her brother’s funeral where she steals a gravedigger’s instruction manual. This act is the beginning of Liesel’s life as the “Book Thief.”

Throughout the book, Liesel’s love for words deepens, even in the midst of war’s devastation. With the help of her foster father, Hans Hubermann, and the Jewish man hiding in their basement, Max Vandenburg, she learns to read and write, pilfering books from the Nazi book burnings, and even from the mayor’s wife’s library.

Liesel’s growth from an illiterate girl to a “word-shaper” is interwoven with the atrocities of war, the complexity of human nature, and the power of words to influence and inspire.

Notable Quotes:

  • “I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
  • “She had decided to make suffering her triumph. When it refused to let go of her, she succumbed to it. She embraced it.”
  • “It kills me sometimes, how people die.”

My Review

“The Book Thief” is a masterfully crafted novel that presents an uncommon blend of history, tragedy, and the undying spirit of a young girl. Zusak’s narrative is unique, captivating, and thoughtful. Death, as the omniscient narrator, offers an interesting commentary on the human capacity for both destruction and kindness.

Zusak’s prose is beautiful and engaging, each sentence carefully structured to resonate with the reader. The vivid description and complex character development make for an emotionally charged reading experience. Liesel’s transformation from a scared and traumatized child to a courageous “word-shaper” is poignant and inspiring.

“The Book Thief” transcends the standard conventions of war literature by focusing on the inherent goodness of its characters amidst the inhumanity of their surroundings. The portrayal of the compassionate and brave Hubermanns, the resilient Liesel, and the kind-hearted Max Vandenburg provides a sharp contrast to the brutal reality of Nazi Germany. The emphasis on the transformative power of words and literature provides a hopeful undercurrent to the bleak setting.


4.5 out of 5

Author Bio

Markus Zusak is an Australian author, best known for his novels “The Book Thief” and “I Am the Messenger.” He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 2014 for his significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.

FAQs or Book Club Questions

  1. How does the novel explore the theme of duality (good vs. evil, love vs. hate)?
  2. How does the unusual narrative perspective of Death contribute to the story?
  3. How does Liesel’s character evolve throughout the novel? What influences her development?
  4. How does the power of words manifest in different ways in “The Book Thief”?
  5. How do the characters in “The Book Thief” resist the Nazi regime in their own ways?

Where to Buy

The Book Thief on Amazon

The Movie Adaptation

The cinematic adaptation of “The Book Thief,” directed by Brian Percival, hit the screens in 2013. Starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as the Hubermanns, and Sophie Nélisse as Liesel, the movie offers a heart-wrenching depiction of the novel’s primary events.

The movie accurately captures the emotional essence of the book, particularly focusing on Liesel’s growth and love for words. Though it doesn’t entirely rely on Death as the narrator, as the book does, it manages to present the looming dread of Death’s presence in an impactful way.

The performances are commendable, with Nélisse successfully embodying the spirit of the feisty and resilient Liesel. The portrayal of her friendship with Rudy Steiner (played by Nico Liersch) and her bond with Max Vandenburg (played by Ben Schnetzer) is heartwarming and adds depth to the narrative.

One can argue that some subtleties and complexities of the book couldn’t be entirely replicated on the screen. However, the movie provides a powerful visualization of the novel’s setting and complements the book’s narration with its stunning visuals and moving performances.

“The Book Thief” movie is a compelling watch, especially for those who have navigated the emotional journey of the book. Though it may not entirely match the depth and complexity of Zusak’s work, it is a worthy adaptation that maintains the spirit and theme of the original story.

You can find The Book Thief movie on Amazon.

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