The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

book_thiefThe Book Thief is a story set in Nazi Germany during World War II.  I’m a fan of historical fiction about wartime stories and read quite a few of it, but this one was a unique read.  While I love fiction about survival stories, The Book Thief tells the story from German people’s perspective.  A completely different angle, but what makes the story unique is the narrator – Death, who claims he/she is haunted by humans. One such human is Liesel Meminger, a young girl whose parents are believed to be Communists and whose mother decides to give them up to foster care to keep Liesel and her brother safe.  Death ‘meets’ Liesel for the first time on their train trip to Molching – a trip her 6 year old brother unfortunately didn’t survive.

The novel tells the story of the inhabitants of Himmel Street and their plight to preserve their lives and those of the people they care about. Not every German shared the opinions of the Nazi party and many of them had to do as they were told in order to survive. Some even took dangerous chances, such as hiding their Jewish friends like Liesel’s foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, did.  Liesel and Hans bonded over books when Hans realized that the little book thief couldn’t read. He taught her to read during early hours of the morning when she couldn’t sleep due to nightmares – mostly about her mother.  She eventually learned to read better and her love for books and lack of access to them made her steal books from various sources, including during one of the Nazi book burnings.

During the novel we get to know the other unassuming inhabitants of Himmel Street, including Liesel’s best friend , Rudi Steiner, the boy next door. A sweet boy who Liesel shares a beautiful friendship with. We also get to know Max, the Jew the Hubermanns were hiding. We read about the bombings, how Hans’ son called him a coward for not wanting to fight in the war and for being against the Nazis, Rosa and Liesel’s fear for Hans’ life when he eventually gave himself up in service of the Nazis. You see, back then if you didn’t do as expected or serve the Nazis they became suspicious.  Being suspected is not something you want, especially if you’re hiding a Jew.

Liesel’s love for reading and books grew even more when the Mayor’s wife (who caught her when she stole a book during one of the book burnings) shared her books with Liesel and offered for her to come read any book she wanted when she would drop off the laundry her mother did for the Mayor.  When Liesel retells one of the stories she read, one evening during a bombing,  to her nervous and distressed  neighbours, she reminded me each time of the value of stories and reading and why I enjoy the escapism that books offer me.

The Book Thief is another example of a book that I’ve read after I have seen the movie. I did read a sample of the book a few years ago when the book became popular, but after seeing the movie I fear that I’ve written it off too soon. I did so, because I didn’t like the writing style, but when reading the book I realized that once you get passed the first few pages, you will get used to the narrating style. The story is most definitely worth the read and probably now one of my favourite WWII fiction novels.

Unlike with the movie, the ending of The Book Thief was quite emotional, but for those who have read the book (or seen the movie) would know what I’m referring to. In fact, I think not mentioning the reason for the tears I’ve shed at the end of the book is quite pointless, because  so many are familiar with The Book Thief that maybe it would not even be a “spoiler”.  This is a story of courage, friendship and tragedy that I would recommend you read, regardless of whether you enjoy historical fiction/WWII stories or not.

Have you read The Book Thief or seen the movie? Share your thoughts with me!

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  • Ali

    I haven’t heard of the movie or the book until now and its intriguing. The majority of the WW2 books I have read are factual rather than historical. Hence there’s seldom any Disney endings and I get the impression that will be the case with The Book Thief. I will look for this in the Kindle store.


    • You haven’t heard of The Book Thief? I hope you read it soon. You should check out the movie as well, if you get a chance

  • I loved this movie. The book has been languishing in my digital library for ages, and for some reason I just haven’t gotten around to reading it.

    • The movie was really nice, but I can tell you the book is so much better! I hope you will pick up the book soon.

  • Stefanie (ดอกแก้ว)

    i’ve also been putting off this book for a while, and i considered watching the movie. but i’m worried that the movie-before-book method will ruin my reading experience. how much of a difference do you think that made for you?

    • I honestly loved the book more. It did affect my reading of the book, because the movie stayed true to the book therefore I knew what was going to happen. I don’t recommend watching the movie first, it will spoil your reading experience. I wish I read the book first, when I had the chance. I just to push through the first few pages…

  • I refused to watch the movie till I re-read the book (first time round I was a teenager!). I can safely say it’s one of the most emotional books I’ve read so far. I couldn’t stop crying at the end – I actually threw the book on the ground I was so upset.

    So glad you carried on reading through the first few pages. x

    • Well since you read the book, you can actually watch the movie 🙂 You need to read Sarah’s Key and The Storyteller – I was a lot more emotional with those 2 than with The Book Thief. Both also wartime stories around WWII Holocaust

  • The book is one of my absolute favourites. It broke my heart and I sobbed so hard. The film, although it brought a tear to my eye, just wasn’t the same. It’s lovely and I enjoyed it, but the book is something else. Thank you for reviewing it 🙂

    • It’s a great book! I’ve heard and read good reviews and I knew the ending is emotional, so when watching the movie and it not having me quite as emotional as I thought I would be I thought maybe people exaggerated a little. The book is something else – I cried at the end. In this case the visual representation didn’t have me in tears like the book has. Love the story, maybe I will watch the movie again now that I’ve finished the book. Just to see how I would judge the movie now. Thanks for stopping by, Jenny.

  • Love this book! Death in this book is my favorite narrator. I taught it for 9th grade Honors English within the first year or so it came out. It was great for group discussions. Great review!

    • Thank you Jennine. It was such a nice read, even though I knew what would happen. I think it’s great for group discussions and definitely great story (WWII) for kids to learn about!

  • Normally this wouldn’t be the kind of book I’d pick up, however a friend lent it to me and insisted I read it. I’m so glad I did because it was truly a wonderful read. So refreshing to read a book about the war from the German side. The movie was very enjoyable as well, although not quite as good as the book, in my opinion!
    Suzy Turner, Fiction Dreams

    • Definitely not as good as the book! I think I will watch the movie again, now that I’ve read the book. It’s a great read and on one of my favourite historical fiction topics. Thanks for stopping by, Suzy!

  • I just watched the movie and I thought it was the best book to movie translation I’ve seen in a long time. You’re right that the ending wasn’t quite as emotional as the book. But I’m always a book fan over the movie. Great review!

    • Thank you, Lauren. I must agree with your there! Although the book is by far better, I also think the movie was a good adaptation because it stayed true to the book and it inspired me to pick up the book.

  • I have heard of the Book Thief and I think yours is the second or third review of it I’m reading. Sounds fascinating that death is the narrator. Nice review, Melinda.

    • Thank you, Celestine. I hope you read the book (or watch the movie), because I think it’s a good story and yes, the narrator is an interesting choice.

  • I adored this book, but it’s been a while since I read it. Perhaps it’s time for a re-read! 🙂

    • I love re-reading novels. Hope you enjoy your re-read, Lindsey

  • I haven’t seen the movie yet. I’m afraid it will be too sad to watch. How did you find it?

    • Hi Naomi. I found that the book was a lot more emotional for me than the movie. Yes, in the end I did get teary eyed, but at the same time I thought “why did people say The Book Thief will make you sob?”. When reading the book I cried at the end, which I didn’t for the movie, so you can watch the movie… it’s not too sad.

  • I love the book, and I think I pretty much bullied my mom into reading it after she set it aside when she didn’t like the first few pages. I’m not sure I want to see the movie, since the actress who plays Liesel looks very different from how I imagined her to look. It’s a silly reason, but since you said the book is better than the movie, I won’t feel bad about not seeing it.

    • I’m glad you got your mum to give it another try. I think you should consider seeing the movie, because even though the book is better, the movie is still what I would call a good adaptation to the book. I think lovers of the book would appreciate the movie too.

  • I’ve read the book, but have stayed away from the movie. I am the type of person who tends to not watch a movie adaptation when I truly love the book, for fear that the movie will damage my memory of the book with its Hollywood-ness and other cinematic liberties. Did you feel this was the case with movie? Of course, I have seen other adaptations that were excellent and so would not write off the movie if someone recommended it. I enjoyed this book precisely because of the writing style, but it’s true, it took me a chapter or two before I got used to Death’s perspective.

    • I found the movie to be a good adaptation, even though I read the book after. I understand your viewpoints, but I think you won’t be too disappointed with the movie. It’s not the same, but it’s a good one and it stays true to the book.

  • I loved the book, but haven’t seen the film, not sure I want to if the ending is a let down.

    • The movie’s ending is not as sad as the book’s ending, but I think that the movie was good. It stayed true to the book and I enjoyed it.

  • I read this one for a graduate school class when it first came out and I CRIED BUCKETS. For like 250 pages! So often seeing the movie first sucks the enjoyment out of books for me. I’ve tried to figure out a way to get over that, but it has yet to happen. 🙂

    • I hope that you do watch the movie one day, but if you don’t then I understand 🙂

  • Oh God, this book. It’s one of the very few books that not only made me cry the first time I read it, but has made me cry every successive time I’ve read it. Not just tear up, but cry actual tears, a substantial number of real actual tears. I can’t wait for Markus Zusak’s next thing, whenever that will appear.

    • It really was a nice book. I only cried at the end though, but I can see how the book can be emotional throughout.

  • I tried to read it but gave up :/ I do plan to watch the movie though

    • Is it because of the writing style? I hope you enjoy the movie more!

  • The Book Thief is truly one of my top ten favorite books. It’s chilling, especially the book burnings. That’s the second thing that oppressive governments take from its citizenry after guns. That was how Hitler controlled Germany. He first took away their guns, then the books came next.

    • Hitler!
      I think this is one of my favorite WWII fictions too. Definitely in the top list.

  • My book club read The Book Thief last summer. I loved it. We’re getting together in a few weeks to watch the movie together.
    It definitely was an emotional book but I didn’t cry so much at the most traumatic time. I felt like “Death” was merciful in giving us a heads up on what was coming.
    But I cried for-sure at the scene in the store at the end.

    • I also only cried at the end of the book. This definitely is a nice book club read.

  • A brilliant review of a fantastic book. I’ve not seen the film so can’t compare the two but the book is up there with George Orwell with some of the messages it contains and it is one emotional read.

  • I’m so glad you overcame your reluctance to read the novel. I haven’t seen the movie because I’m so afraid it could never live up to the emotion I felt when I read this — it was a 5 star book for me. It’s been on my mind again this week because I just finished another excellent WWII novel, All The Light We Cannot See by Jonathan Doerr, which I also rated 5 stars. Very different story, but same feeling of hope balanced with devastation.

    • I want to read that one too. I think I have it marked as to-read. The movie didn’t get the same emotional reaction out of me at the end, but I still think it’s worth to watch it.

  • This deserves a re-read. Such a wonderful book…even if it did make me ugly cry!

    • Yes, definitely a type of book that must be re-read.

  • I enjoyed reading your review. I must read this book! i just viewed an interesting video of the author, Markus Zusak talking about failure, over on the Shereads blog.

    • I didn’t see that, I’ll go check out the blog.

  • I’m glad you gave this a second chance. I loved it, but the narrator does take some getting used to!

  • I read the book multiple times. It is one of my go to books when I am in a reading slump. I totally love it. Have not seen the film yet though.
    You wrote a lovely review about it and though I can imagine this book is not for everyone I am glad you decided to give it a second chance.

    • How many times exactly? 🙂
      You should see the film, you might like it.

  • I haven’t seen the movie! Now I’m not sure I could handle it, knowing the ending was compromised!

    • You must still watch it 🙂 The ending just wasn’t that sad, but it’s still a good movie.

  • I read it a few years ago so it’s a bit hazy in my mind, but I remember appreciating the style, unique, even if it does take a bit to get used to, and I liked the drawings. I wasn’t aware they’d changed the ending for the film though I suppose given that many stories are changed that’s almost to be expected.

    • They didn’t change the ending, it just wasn’t as sad to me as the book were. The narrating style is definitely unique, or should I say the narrator 🙂

  • A wonderful review. I read this wonderful book before seeing the movie. Loved the book. Such a touching story of courage. I liked the movie but it surely did not compare to the book.

  • This is one of my favorite books, but I must admit that it also took me a few pages to get used to the unusual narrative style. I thought the movie was well done, but of course, the book is better!

    • Of course! 🙂
      I think I’ll watch the movie again, maybe soon…

  • One of my very faves! I love the writing style, loved it from the very first page! I saw the movie recently but prefer the book (of course!)