Written by Markus Zusak
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Review by Meredith Allard
I don’t know how I missed reading Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief in the years since its publication. I had heard of it, but you know how it is. Too many books, too little time. Then a couple of weeks ago I saw a preview for the movie version starring one of my favorite actors, Geoffrey Rush, so I picked up a copy. I’m glad I did.
The Book Thief is a hard story to absorb, as a story set in Nazi Germany should be. It should be hard to absorb the cruelty human beings are capable of. Young Liesel Meminger moves into the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her new foster parents, and despite the harsh reality of the Hubermann’s poverty and the problems they face living in Hitler’s Germany, Liesel learns what it means to love and be loved. When her foster parents hide a young Jewish man in their basement—at great personal risk to themselves—Liesel forms an unbreakable bond with the young man. She finds some solace stealing books from everywhere from a graveside to the Mayor’s wife, and she learns the positive, and negative, power of words.
There’s so much I loved about this book. I loved that Liesel wasn’t a perfect character, and she didn’t always think perfect thoughts or take perfect actions. Beyond her struggles, she learns to love her foster mother Rosa Hubermann, whose hard exterior protects a heart of gold. She adores Hans Hubermann, her foster father, whose extraordinary acts of kindness make him a favorite of everyone he encounters, with the interesting exception of his own son. I loved the connection Liesel made with Max, the young Jewish man her foster parents hide in the basement, and I loved Liesel’s courage, putting herself at risk to show her solidarity with her Jewish friend. I kept putting myself in Liesel’s shoes, wondering how I would have reacted in each situation (though since I have a Jewish mother I would have been hiding in the basement alongside Max, that is, if I was fortunate enough to find some selfless people like the Hubermanns).
At one point I had to skim ahead to find out what became of my favorite character, and I never do that since I like to watch the story unfold the way it’s written. For whatever reason, the suspense was too much and I had to know what happened. My nosiness didn’t stop my enjoyment of the book; in fact, the narrator of The Book Thief (“Death”) often gives hints of what’s to come without spoiling the effect of the story.
I understand why Markus Zusak has won so many literary awards. His writing in The Book Thief is both funny and poignant, and his use of metaphorical language is perfect at painting pictures with words. I have already bought two more of his novels, and I’m looking forward to reading his new books as they’re released. And now that I’ve read the The Book Thief, I can see the movie.
Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.