The Book Thief tells the story of a young girl called Liesel Meminger through the eyes of Death. Zusak’s novel is set in World War 2 Germany, and we follow Liesel from 1939 through to 1944. Zusak doesn’t hold back and in the beginning, tragedy has already struck our young protagonist. As she walks away from the Cemetery she picks up a book from the ground, her first book is stolen.
As the novel progresses we learn that Liesel cannot read and so her foster father, Hans Hubermann teaches her to. As Liesel learns to read, the reader is taken through the World War Two years in Molching and the effect it has on this small town. We clutch the book tightly, as Rosa Hubermann (Liesel’s foster mother) slowly loses work cleaning the neighbours’ laundry. We feel sympathy as we learn more about the kindness within Hans and the difficult positions he is put in. We read nervously, as Max, a Jew is hidden in the Huberman’s basement. We cheer for Rudy Steiner, Leisel’s best friend as he admires Jesse Owens (four time Olympic Gold Medallist in 1936) in a Country that isn’t accepting of other races. We feel the pain of families ripped apart and our hearts reach out to Hans, who judges no one and cares for all. We question over Isla Hermann, who becomes the sole victim of Liesel’s book thievery, all the whilst aware of the girl’s actions. We slowly become accustomed to Death as he narrates and weaves the story, Zusak turning Death into a shadowy human. Capable of emotion.
Zusak weaves together characters struggling and fighting to keep together in the small town of Molching so well. The impact of the Second World War on a small town is portrayed well and the affect this has on the characters is also delivered well. He weaves each character together with ease and we are able to feel emotion for each.
This is where Zusak excels, human emotion and bringing the concept of Death to life. However, this is marred with a poorly paced narrative and a girl who doesn’t entirely deserve the moniker ‘book thief’.
Every chapter Death gives us an overview of what’s happening next, which means the element of surprise and discovery for the reader is gone. Death even goes so far in varying chapters to tell us the end of the book, an ending which is altogether sad and tragic but doesn’t have the desired impact on the reader. The sharpness of pain and overwhelming sadness is gone as we are already told how our story is going to end.
Liesel who gains the name ‘Book Thief’ from her best friend Rudy, hardly steals any books. The majority of her theivery is from Isla Hermann, who before the reader can question whether she was aware of what the young protagonist is up to, has Zusak explain that Hermann did indeed know what the girl was doing. As the story progresses Hermann ensures that the window to her library is open so Leisel can indeed ‘thieve’ books from their shelves. I had hoped that in Nazi Germany, where books were often burned or thrown out due to their nature not agreeing with that of Hitler, that we would see Liesel triumph over them and steal books from them. This hope came from the second book she stole which was from a book burning. However, this was short lived.
Whilst most who have read this book, highly rate it I have to disagree. Altogether whilst a fantastic premise and character portrayal, this book falls short. In some ways I feel that it is helped that Western Society is very focused on keeping the history of World War Two in the conciousness of everyone and therefore, this story is easy to read and swallow as most are aware of the horrors everyone faced during those six years.
Whilst an enjoyable book, I feel that it was poorly executed and could have been delivered with a stronger narrative.
Overall rating: 3/5*