Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief
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Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Picador
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Format: Novel
Number Of Pages: 560
Publish Date: 2006

The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak is an international bestseller and has been translated into 63 languages. In 2013, it was adapted into a movie, and since its publishing in 2006, it is occasionally taught in schools.

Synopsis Of The Book Thief

So, The Book Thief follows the narrative of a young German girl and the people of her street during WW2. Narrated by death, this novel teaches the value of life and highlights the cruel treatment of the innocent during this time of conflict. The Book Thief serves to remind us that victims of World War 2 extended beyond only Jews, and that many innocent civilians living in Germany at that time were subjected to harsh treatment by the Nazis, as well as various other difficulties, such as poverty. Liesel’s ignorance allows a unique view of the war and how many children were taken advantage of due to their lack of knowledge. We follow Liesel’s time as a part of the Bund Deutscher Madel and explore her relationship with those living in her street.

The novel begins when Liesel is taken into the care of the Hubermann’s and has no other choice but to adapt to life on Himmel Street. She makes a friend in a young boy called Rudy, and together they turn to thievery in the hopes that they can cure an insatiable hunger. It isn’t long before the bombs begin to fall, and the Nazi control comes down thicker. When a young man, a Jew, named Max, stumbles into the Hubermann household, seeking sanctuary, Liesel becomes aware of the Nazi cruelness and realizes just how dire of a situation her and her family are in.


Living in poverty, Liesel’s mother has no way to feed Liesel and Werner (Liesel’s younger brother), so she makes the hard decision to give them up. However, on their journey towards Himmel Street, Werner dies, and Liesel must watch as they bury her little brother at the side of the tracks. This will fuel nightmares for months to come. She begins school, but being illiterate, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite this, she quickly takes up a love of reading, and stealing, putting herself in immense danger.

When Max makes an appearance, and the Hubermanns have no choice but to care for him, Liesel is forced to keep his arrival a secret, even from her best friend Rudy. Through Max, Liesel witnesses the wickedness of the Nazi Regime. She approaches these scenarios with an innocence that one would expect from a girl of nine years, as well as kindness and honesty. She is able to see beyond the propaganda and make choices that fit her own morals.


The Book Thief is based entirely on the people Liesel meets and the bonds she forms. Hans and Rosa Hubermann take on a key role, both in Liesel’s life and within the novel. The Hubermanns live in poverty – Rosa washes clothes for the wealthy, and Hans is a painter; both jobs proving unprofitable in face of the war effort. Despite this, they provide for Liesel as well as possible, and in between Han’s accordion playing and Rosa’s brutal nature, we can see the love they have for one another and others. This is obvious in how they take Max under their wing, despite the risks, and quickly nurse him back to health.

Liesel immediately makes friends with Rudy, a boy her age who fancies himself the next Jesse Owens. But there is a catch; not only is Rudy’s idolization frowned upon, but his Aryan features and athletic abilities have caught the attention of those higher up.

Having remembered the stories his father told him, Max boards a train – illegally – to reach the Hubermanns, who he trusts can provide a safe sanctuary for him, for at least a little while. However, Max becomes sick, and the Hubermann’s fight to keep him alive. Having formed a deep bond with Liesel, this breaks her, for she wants nothing less than to lose someone else.

Analysis Of The Book Thief

The Book Thief is narrated by death itself, offering readers a unique perspective. Today, death is treated as a taboo subject, and something to be feared. But the personification of death through this novel, encourages something more to be considered; perhaps death is not the bad guy we make it out to be, but rather just an overworked entity who can do nothing but watch as humans play each other’s downfalls. ‘They say that war is death’s best friend, but… war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, doesn’t thank you. He asks for more.’

Focusing on innocent citizens acts as a reminder that Germany was not the bad guy, and that it was filled with so many innocent people who were suffering greatly because of Hitler’s rule. This included many children, who were so impressionable that they could hardly avoid adopting the views of the Third Reich, especially when groups set out to target youths and indoctrinate them into the beliefs of the Nazi Regime.

This novel takes many sad turns to encourage a sense of emotional turmoil for the reader – what better way for Zusak to get his message across than for him to leave his audience blubbery? It is important that we remember all who were affected by WW2, plus any other conflicts, and do our best to consider these events from different points of view.

Summary Of The Book Thief

So, in conclusion, The Book Thief is a must-read for everyone, no matter your age, and we should talk about it more. This novel has the ability to adjust prejudice and provide new viewpoints; that is why it should be taught in schools more often. As I mentioned, kids are impressionable, but they should be encouraged to form their own opinions; providing them with diverse resources can help them do that. The Book Thief will forever be my favourite book, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding

Further Links

To purchase The Book Thief, click here.

For additional information regarding Markus Zusak, click here.