ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Book Review: "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

Updated on January 8, 2014

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this book. Some are contradictory. I will give you a spoiler: I’m not certain if I liked it or not.

Firstly, I should admit that I did cry.

I cried and cried and cried. I cried buckets of tears. Also, I stayed up until 2am because I could not stop reading the book; I just had to finish it in one sitting. I read and cried and hit myself in the head with my iPad because I had dosed off, which woke me abruptly, so I could read and cry some more before dosing off again, to repeat the pattern. I cried hardest at the end. And we all know how it ends because it is narrated by death.

So, it is simple. I liked the book, a great deal. Yes? Hmm. I’m still not certain!


“The Book Thief” is a novel set in Nazi Germany, in Molching, a (fictional) town outside Munich, the “birthplace” of the Nazi movement. The book begins in January 1939, on a train. Liesel Meminger’s mother is taking Liesel and her brother, Werner, to Molching to live with foster parents. They are all clearly hungry and very poor. Werner dies on the train enroute to Molching. After burying her brother, Leisel and her mother continue Munich, from which the authorities take Liesel on to her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, and her mother disappears, never to be seen or heard from again.

At her brother’s burial, Liesel steals a book from one of the gravediggers and thereby earns the name “Book Thief”. Stealing books is not really the point of the book. I believe Liesel steals three books during the course of the novel. The book stealing, initially a taking of something by which to remember her brother, seems to be a metaphor for Liesel’s transformation from illiterate and unaware, passive child, to a child who learns to read, and begins to recognize and act as a participant in what is going on in the world around her.

In addition to the Hubermanns, other people significant to Liesel include a neighbor boy and friend, Rudy Steiner, Max Vandenburg, a Jew Liesel and the Hubermann’s hide in the basement, and the Burgermeister’s wife, Frau Hermann, a woman broken by the death of her son in WW1.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Liesel moves to Molching just months before Germany invades Poland and the war begins. We are presented with the story of ordinary Germans making a life in wartime Nazi Germany. Although some of the minor characters are clearly shown to be bad, most of the characters in this novel lean toward the good, and for the most part, they are even apolitical, remaining as neutral as possible in order to get in as little trouble as possible.

This mindset, to play along – hang the Nazi flag outside your home on Hitler’s birthday, enroll your children in the Hitler Youth programs, even join the Nazi Party – but do as little as possible for or against Jews or other undesirables is probably what most Germans did, and probably what most of us would do in a similar situation.

Hitler created an atmosphere of fear, and no doubt counted on even those who were not true believers to play along, if only to save their own skins. This allowed the Third Reich to continue on its course.

This is the behavior Edmund Burke (18th century Statesman, Philosopher) referred to when he wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Death, the Weisenheimer

I have read in other reviews of the book complaint that the author didn’t show enough of the meanness, that these Germans were almost too mild, portrayed too sympathetically. I actually appreciate this restraint because it is so easy to always show the rabid Nazi – he is expected to goose step across any novel or film set in Nazi Germany in his highly polished Jackboots.

This, however, is not the tale of the uniform clad SS officer or the rich man who used his wealth and power to save hundreds. This is a different story, a tale of the powerless, common people compromising and making their way through hazardous times. Children steal food and hide it from their family in order to have something in their stomachs, or steal books in order to “get back” at a cruel system. It is a world where an average man must break a law and risk his life to save Jewish man’s life or feed him a crust of bread in the street.

As noted previously, the book is narrated by Death. In this tale, Death is quirky and has clearly seen too much. This is the other primary source of complaint of the book - Death is a Weisenheimer, making wisecracks about his job and the horrors he has witnessed. Death is attracted to, even as he is repelled by humans and our behavior; he is also weary as the Nazis and growing war have ramped up his workload to a relentless flow.

This wisecracking, even flippant, Death seems to bother many readers. He does not bother me; in fact, this personality makes it seem feasible to me because I am a nurse and I know medical people will speak in ways that would seem insensitive when talking amongst themselves about their work and what they have seen. This is how we survive what we see, how we manage the horror, and I can accept that this is how death survives his work as well.

Comments and Criticism

Another source of complaint is the odd writing style. There are childish drawings and strange use of language – lemon colored hair, a chocolate colored sky, and there are little boldface news flash type statements. So much of the text is “precious”. I am not certain if this is supposed to somehow underscore Death’s quirky personality or if it intended to mirror the writing style and the type of language a young girl like Leisel might have used writing in her journal.

It is even possible that this is some gimmick intended to keep the attention of the Young Adult reader. It is really impossible for me to tell and it makes this the one the one area I find irritating in the book: the hammy delivery.

So, although I admire the story, I am left feeling a little too aware of the actual text. It made me irritated and uncomfortable. It was difficult to pay attention to the story when the writer kept tugging at my arm saying “look at me and my precious writing”. I was left with the feeling that not all that needed to be said was actually said.

I think, in the end, I will say that I liked the story, but felt the writing of the story was less than desirable. I wish I new more about some of the characters. For instance, Rosa Hubermann, at first glance a shrew, is shown to have a full and loving heart and great generosity. I want to know so much more about how she made her way to Himmel Street.

In the end, I believe a good editing might have helped the author disappear, clearing the way for a finer view of these interesting and doomed souls.


Submit a Comment

  • Mel Carriere profile image

    Mel Carriere 

    3 years ago from San Diego California

    It couldn't have been too bad if you stayed up all night reading it. I can't even get past 10 PM these days. I saw the movie based on this book, and I really liked it. Great review.

  • Chantelle Porter profile image

    Chantelle Porter 

    3 years ago from Chicago

    I loved this book and thought the narration by death was novel and intriguing. And I, too cried buckets. Great article.

  • esatchel profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from Kentucky

    Thank you both, Eiddwen and TurtleDog, for your comments.

  • Eiddwen profile image


    4 years ago from Wales

    A great review and thank you for sharing.


  • TurtleDog profile image


    4 years ago

    Thanks for the review!


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)