Book Reviews

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak
Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN: 978-0-375-84330-7

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This heart-rending story of a 9-year-old orphan girl in Nazi Germany will fascinate and astonish you. Beautifully written, the novel has deservedly won many awards.

Although the book touches on many universal themes of love, duty, faith, betrayal and so on, it is the central theme of words that resonates throughout the text.

Words are so powerful that Hitler used them to hypnotize a nation, to enchant Germany and thus to launch persecution of the Other, especially Jews.

Yet the power of words for good is both subtly and plainly displayed in this book. Even the curious layout contributes a message.

You become engrossed with the main characters, especially Liesel, the brave little girl who endures through losses and horrors which to most of us are thankfully mere echoes of history rather than our own experiences.

Liesel's love of words -- of books -- grows even as the Nazis take delight in burning books. Much to the puzzlement of Liesel's partner in theft, the mischievous but adorable little boy Rudy Steiner, she prefers to steal books, rather than the food they desperately need.

One of the many unusual aspects of The Book Thief is that the tale is told by Death. The latter's droll views of human beings are enhanced by transitions that take the reader smoothly back and forth in time. This foreshadowing of somber events somewhat softens the blow when they ultimately occur.

For me the most memorable of the unforgettable characters is Hans Hubermann, the man who accepts Liesel as his foster child and loves her as though she were his flesh and blood daughter. A German veteran of the First World War, no lover of the Nazis and a man who risks his life to shelter a Jew, Hans is not only a wonderful step-father but a quiet, courageous human being.

The symbolism, metaphors and brilliance of this book will long echo in the hearts and minds of readers, especially if you lived through World War 2, or if you are Jewish. Parents, Jewish or not, and adolescents will be touched by the revelations of what love truly means.

The Book Thief is a remarkable, inspirational accomplishment by an author who has transformed his parents' memories of war to make us better understand our common humanity, to relish life and to look death in the face.