The Book Thief

Here is a small fact: you are going to die.

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

Some important information: this novel is narrated by Death. It’s a small story about a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, A Jewish fist fighter and quite a lot of thievery.

Another thing you should know: Death will visit the book thief three times.

I can’t really get into why, because it’s a massive spoiler, but The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is without question one of the most traumatic experiences I have put myself through by choice in recent history.

If you have read it, I have only one question for you. And it is this: what the fuck?

For everyone else, The Book Thief is one of those very famous international best seller types that you think you should read, but put off for ages because it’s long and it’s about Nazi Germany, so you know it’s going to be traumatic (but how traumatic you truly cannot imagine. Okay, I did only finish it yesterday, so I’m still in the first phase of my response but what. The. Fuck.), but eventually someone in your life pushes you (in this instance my housemate) and you finally pick it up, because It’s Time.

And you know what, trauma aside, it is an incredible book. Told by Death, in combination with the Nazi Germany of it all, means there is a constant sense of impermanence, of the looming end of it all that we all do our best to ignore day-to-day. That sense of something looming grows in time with the hate and aggression life under Hitler brings to the community. From Jewish-owned shops destroyed before closing down completely – and their keepers vanished – to the lady in the corner shop who will only sell you food after you first Heil Hitler, the bubbling fanaticism and anti-Semitism form a sinister undertone to Liesel’s every day – but as a nine-year-old it’s not something she thinks about a ton. Mostly, she’s concerned with where she and her best friend Rudy are going to go steal some extra food because her foster mother has been cooking nothing but pea soup for months.

But a normal childhood isn’t a luxury children in Nazi Germany get to experience, and there is something uniquely harrowing about the ways Liesel and Rudy lose their innocence as the war wages on, gradually wending its way toward their homes on Himmel Street. From Liesel, hiding the secret of the hidden Jew in the basement to Rudy, fighting the war with the Nazi Youth but actually fighting the war against the Nazi Youth, both children have a strong sense of justice instilled in them that the misery of their circumstances never quite manages to beat out. Their actions aren’t exactly powerful – reading to a huddled group inside a bomb shelter, standing up for your friend the Nazi Youth would call weak – but small as they are, in the depths of the despair of the situation, they mean everything.

The Book Thief is really a book about changing the world in small ways: saving the life of one Jewish man, even if only for a time; protecting one kid from the fists of the Nazi Youth bullies; leaving the window open so a young girl can sneak inside and steal your books; giving a dying man a teddy bear. It’s about one small street in Nazi Germany and how its inhabitants survived the hatred – and how they didn’t. People can change each other’s lives in ways large and small, and you see all of them throughout the scope of this expansive novel. When one person loses hope for a while another person picks it up and runs with it until they can do so again, and so on and so forth, until Death comes to visit.

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Author: Lydia Tewkesbury

26. Loves a good story.

14 thoughts on “The Book Thief”

  1. I really loved The Book Thief, and I definitely relate to putting it off for a while despite the hype. I ended up picking it up, because two of my close friends read and loved it, and were pushing their copies at me haha. I didn’t regret it, and since recommended it to lots of people, but it was definitely a traumatic book, especially because I went into it with little to no info (I knew it was a sad book, and the subject matter, but didn’t know just how tragic the end would be.) Great review!

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  2. Okay you are pushing me to read it haha This book has been on my TBR for the longest time. I think I have purchased it. Good to know it’s Nazi Germany. I will have to make time for it 😀 So you are glad you read it? Will it be a re-read in the future?

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    1. It’s such a classic I think a lot of us have had it hanging around on our shelves for a while. It’s definitely worth the read, but it is quite a commitment as it’s very long.

      In terms of rereading… I don’t know, to be totally honest with you. When I’m rereading I don’t tend to first reach for the tear-jerking books in my library. That said, the story is told in such an inventive and interesting style I could definitely see myself revisiting in the future.

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  3. I am definitely not going to read this book LOL Sorry not sorry. I really don’t need to feel depressed and ever since I read (and watched, because why wouldn’t I try to traumatise myself twice) The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, I decided to never again read or watch anything related to Nazi Germany again if I knew it was going to end in that sort of tone.
    (I will read stuff like Wolf by Wolf, though, because you know it’s AU YA and it’ll probably be fine, but I draw the line at freaking The Book Thief – oh no, no no no no no, big NOPE)
    I’m glad it touched you so deeply, though, despite the major mindfuck it left in its wake! I hope you recover soon. But hey, at least you can check that one off your bucket list 🙂 (Is your roommate secretly sort of sadistic, though, I wonder?)
    Brilliant review, Lydia!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha – I think my roommate might be secretly sadistic. I’m generally not the type to reach for stories I know will make me cry, but she 100% is.

      Ha! No, I can support your decision not to read this. I haven’t read The Boy In The Striped Pajamas but I’ve heard enough to know it sounds like a similar experience. I know what you mean – it brings a whole other level of horror when you can’t even be like ‘well, it’s fictional’ because even if this exact circumstance you’re reading is, the story as a whole very much isn’t. Oooh, have you read Wolf by Wolf though?

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    1. Aww, thank you! Oh my god that was definitely me too. I was a mess! Yes, the narration by Death was one of the most inventive parts of the story – although mean that he makes you think you know what to prepare for…

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