The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak,

Book cover of The Book Thief

Book description

'Life affirming, triumphant and tragic . . . masterfully told. . . but also a wonderful page-turner' Guardian
'Brilliant and hugely ambitious' New York Times
'Extraordinary' Telegraph


1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has…

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Why read it?

24 authors picked The Book Thief as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

The story unfolds somewhat mysteriously, in that WWII historians may be a bit confused. The annihilation of Dresden, Germany through intense fire-bombing by the allies leaves little hope that anyone could survive long, yet a young girl is moving through the neighborhoods unscathed. She steals books from the library of a rich, sophisticated lady who has all but surrendered to her fate. The premise provides a nice counter to the book burning by the Nazis in the years leading up to military action. Although the girl is hardly a military hero, her persistence and courage renders her a testament to…

The Book Thief remains to this day one of my favorite novels! When I first read the book ten years ago, I was immediately drawn to the unique way the story was told. The opening chapter introduces the reader to the narrator... Death. Surprisingly, Death is a sympathetic character who states that they have never needed a vacation more than during WW2. It took me a bit to get used to the narrator’s voice, but once I did, I was hooked. The prose is so beautifully written and poetic that the only way I can describe it is like reading…

In 1939 Nazi Germany, Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich. She scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing until she encounters something she can’t resist—books. Her accordion-playing foster father helps her to read, and she shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. The story is told by “Death,” who becomes a character in the story. As one of the first books about the war that I read offering a point of view of someone living in Germany, an important message…

I loved everything about this young adult novel. Many books have been written about the Holocaust, but several things set this one apart. I loved Zusak’s innovation in writing from Death’s point of view, about a time and place in history—Berlin during WWII—where Death had never been busier. The author presents a rare and empathetic look at life for the average German, struggling with poverty and pressured to participate in one of the most horrific events ever. Liesel’s love of reading and risk to do so inspired me, as did the fact that stories matter. This story matters a great…

As the youngest of four in a single-family home, I spent a lot of time alone while my mother worked and my older siblings had extracurriculars. Books raised me. They were my salvation, literally saving me, much like they saved Liesel Meminger in The Book Thief. A foster child in 1939 war-torn Germany, Liesel stole books to feed her broken soul. There’s so much loss in this book—and the novel is narrated by Death—but at the same time, I learned about hope (sprinkled with a touch of humor), survival, and the redemptive power of the written word. 

Being German myself, I’ve always had a particular interest in learning about life during World War II. Of all the books I’ve read on the subject, The Book Thief stands out as one of the most compelling. Liesel, the protagonist, is a German girl who builds a unique bond with Max, a young Jewish man Liesel’s foster parents are hiding in their basement. The power of imagination plays a central role in this novel as Liesel connects with Max through stories. The novel is narrated by Death himself, whose unique perspective makes it a read as magical as it is…

I liked this YA book so much that I recommended it to my adult book club who also loved it. The main character, Liesel Meminger, loses her family during the WWII Holocaust in Germany. Taken in by kind-hearted foster parents, she feels low self-esteem because she is illiterate. Learning to read her stolen books helps her find companionship and acceptance and raises her feelings about her own self-worth. I appreciate the author’s quirky style; his narrator, for example, is Death who claims to be completely objective about his task, and yet, he is concerned about Liesel. The tone is ironic…

Despite the terrible backdrop of Nazis and WW2, we find Liesel engaging with the world and growing up through books, her father, her neighbors, and a hidden boy in the basement. And while she was perhaps too young to know that the world should be any different, she was intrepid, While I grew up in a peaceful world, I was paralyzingly shy and every venture into the world brought fear of social interaction. I wanted to be intrepid and I was not. While reading The Book Thief, I kept thinking I want to hang out with Liesel. I would…

If I were ever forced to choose a “favorite” book, this would be it. I love it. It’s completely unique and imaginative. As I was familiar with Zusak’s other books, I bought it as soon as it came out without knowing what it was about. My breath stopped when I read:

“The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying?”

My sister had died just six months before. The idea that Death saw colors in all the souls carefully collected gave me great solace.

On top of…

A book narrated from the POV of Death? Yes, please! 

Although I expected a book about a foster child in Nazi Germany to be sad (of course it is!), Death’s dark humor provides moments of relief throughout his narrative, and “his” apparent fondness for young Liesel, the MC, is surprising. Faced with tragic loss from the onset, Liesel nevertheless finds ways to remain hopeful, and her spirit heals those she encounters. The suspense of wondering who would be “next”... and the beautiful development of the various relationships in this beefy novel... kept me turning pages until late at night.

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