I’m currently taking a break from all the nonfiction I’ve been reading lately to get back to literary fiction for a while. I decided on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak because it has always been on my to-read list. It was definitely a heavy place to start, but this is a book I can highly recommend. It’s about as far as you can get from a light and bubbly summer read, but I loved it. Although it’s a cliché statement, this is a book I actually couldn’t put down.
The Book Thief is narrated by Death. The opening section of the book, in which Death describes his encounters with “the book thief”, foreshadowing the entire novel, was my favorite part of the story. Because you know once you pick it up that The Book Thief takes place in Nazi Germany, you have that overhanging cold feeling of dramatic irony in which you know that things will continue to grow worse. Still, the subtle foreshadowing helped to set the tone for the whole book and created an air of mystery that I found compelling.
Death is a theme in almost all novels that take place in Nazi Germany, but in The Book Thief its personification helps you to feel its presence, almost like even death itself didn’t want to be involved in this level of societal evil. The novel follows a young girl named Liesel, “the book thief” because she steals books at important moments in her life, and shows the effects of Hitler’s rise to power and the subsequent war on Germany and its people through her eyes.
Unsurprisingly, it is heartbreaking. There are touching moments and terrifying moments. The book focuses on individuals and their human connections, their friendships and the emotions they feel in the face of such dread and confusion, and the ways they try to find meaning and connection in such a time. Some novels about this period in history are overdone and try to capture everything that happened, and the sheer scale of it makes it hard to process emotionally for the reader. The micro scale of The Book Thief, as well as the young age of Liesel and thus her innocent approach to processing many of the horrible and unprecedented things she sees and feels, makes the book hit home in an emotional way.
I loved the ending too, which I won’t give away here. The writing in The Book Thief is exquisite, and there are sentences you will read over two or three times just to let them sink in. It leaves you haunted and sad, which seems appropriate. It’s a long book but is worth the time it takes, and it gives real insight into the emotional perspectives of the characters. This is the first book I read about Nazi Germany that connected with me in quite this way, because I felt the sense of confusion and dread came through in a real way.
I think in today’s political climate, we are especially poised to resonate with feelings of powerlessness and to remember that we must notice the creeping changes in a political situation when it comes to rights, social norms, protections, and expectations, before they have crept too far. The Book Thief may leave you devastated and faintly queasy, but it should. It’s a beautifully written novel that deserves to be read. And if you love it as I do, I suggest that you go back once you’re done and read the opening section once more, now that you know the journey Death and Liesel have been on together.
All in all, the novel was very interesting, and I loved the ending. The novel is well written and although it is long, it is worth your time. I feel that I learned about different perspectives and ways of life, which was interesting and mind opening.