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‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak, Reviewed; Narrated by Death; a German Family, Jews, the War, a Thief; Book Clubs

Updated on June 17, 2018
annart profile image

I love to read & am enthusiastic about recommending any book I consider a great read. Fiction or non-fiction, it must be well written.

Cover of 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak
Cover of 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak | Source

The Habit of Reading

I've always loved reading but the number of books I was getting through dropped over the last few years (busy, busy!). To try to remedy this, I joined a book club and it's worked; I now have to make sure I read at least one good book a month so as not to lose face when I arrive at the group and don't know what they're talking about! The first book when I joined was this one - a thoroughly enjoyable read, even though the content is about as serious as it gets.

Why not join or even form a book club yourself? It only needs a few people to start and it can grow from there. Each person can recommend a book they've read in the past, or suggest a new story to read, or there are good lists available on line from other book clubs. Re-visit the classics, try some contemporary novels or look at some poetry - whatever takes your fancy. From reading, conversations grow, friendships are formed and the mind is broadened; what's more, it gets you reading regularly and is a worthwhile adventure in itself. Give it a go!

The Author

Marcus Zusak is Australian born, with German and Austrian parents. He lives in Sydney, is in his 30s and has written stories for adults and young adults. ‘The Book Thief’ started as a story for young adults. Zusak was influenced by war-time stories he'd heard from his parents, especially the bombings his mother experienced in Munich. She also told of an incident when a group of Jews were marched past on their way to a concentration camp; this poignant scene is included in the story.

Marcus Zusak


Main characters

The tale follows Liesel, a German girl of a poor family taken to be fostered on the outskirts of Munich where we’re introduced to the people in her street and a few others. She cannot read; she is the book thief and ‘acquires’ several books by various means. The plot follows her while the books act as a thread to bring aspects of the tale together.

One unusual fact - it is narrated by Death; an amusing but insightful death who doesn’t always enjoy his job but does it with tenderness, as illustrated by the following;

‘ one saving grace is distraction. It keeps me sane. It helps me cope.... [I] make distraction my holiday.’

‘...I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A colour will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.’

There is also a refreshing way of leaving little reminders, summaries and comments, throughout the book.


You are going to Die.’

This is followed a few sentences later by an afterthought:


Does this worry you?

I urge you - don’t be afraid.

I’m nothing if not fair.’

Also unusually, Death often indicates what’s going to happen without spoiling the suspense!

‘He had already cheated me in one world war, but would later be put into another.... where he would somehow manage to avoid me again.’

Rudy, the son from next door, is Liesel's comrade in crime; a loyal friend who is often in trouble. He admires Liesel and is always asking for a kiss. There is a band of school friends who experience the war and its horrors with her. Liesel's foster father helps her adjust to her new life; his quiet, honest approach forms a strong bond between them. Then there’s the Mayor’s wife, a pathetic recluse who lives in the big house on the hill; she has an important link with Liesel, through the books in her vast library.

Pages in the Basement 'The Book Thief' Markus Zusak
Pages in the Basement 'The Book Thief' Markus Zusak | Source

The Story

Liesel is wrenched from her mother, brother and the life she knows. She gradually becomes close to her new ‘papa’, a gentle accordion player who teaches her much; he's the firm rock in a chaotic world and encourages her to learn to read. The plight of the Jews is illustrated graphically alongside the lives of ordinary German citizens, portrayed in a realistic, sympathetic light, trying to get on with their lives, trying to survive. One Jew in particular, hidden by ‘papa’ in the basement, shares Liesel’s love of words.

Solid facts about the numbers killed by war (how busy Death is kept without any holidays or anyone to cover for him!) and Death’s way of talking to the reader means that you’re involved in, part of, the unfolding of this story. It is easy to read; the narrative flows and the chapters are short. The subject matter is not light, however. Many facets of how the war affected people are shown through the varied characters, some sympathetic, some not so; those of the more privileged class are not necessarily any happier either. Throughout it all, though, is a great depth of humanity and a highly developed portrayal of each individual.


It is a tale of Death, of many contrasting people, of the importance of books and writing.

It is a tale of strength and courage, of weakness and helplessness, of ambition and resilience, of vision and brainwashing.

It is a tale well constructed, well written with unusual, refreshing imagery:

‘When the train pulled into.... Munich, the passengers slid out as if from a torn package.’

Though tear-jerking and harrowing, this story also shines with warmth and humour, without taking the edge off the cruelty and futility of war. It’s a novel which leaves its mark on the soul, a book to re-read over the years, one of those in which you find something new each time you return to it.

To read about Markus Zusak

Random House - Features - then search Markus Zusak

Author of awarding winning books such as The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger

The Film

A film of this book was released in early 2014. It did not have good reviews so obviously did not live up to the book. This is a must-read!

© 2012 Ann Carr


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    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      Erling: Thank you, glad you appreciated this.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      May I simply say what a reielf to uncover someone who truly understands what they are talking about on the internet.You definitely understand how to bring an issue to light andmake it important. A lot more people should checkthis out and understand this side of the story.I can't believe you're not more popular given that you surely havethe gift.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      Cordelia: Glad to clarify! Thanks for your visit.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      It's much easier to unesndtard when you put it that way!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, teaches12345. I always advocate reading a book before seeing the film; that way you make your own picture of the characters and events rather than having it imposed on you. Seeing the film first leaves a lasting visual impression even when you read the story. Appreciate you dropping by. Ann

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Now that it is a movie I am sure this hub will get a lot of attention from readers. I am going to see it either at the theater or get it from the library when it is out. I hear it the movie is great but I may have to read the book first. Your review has my curious.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks for reading, Beth, and for your comment. It's one of my favourite books our book club has come with it. Ann

    • Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

      Beth Eaglescliffe 

      6 years ago from UK

      I read The Book Thief last year and found it compulsive reading. Your review echos my own thoughts - this is a book that is poignant and sad, yet has its lighter moments too.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      cam8510: Thanks for reading and for your kind comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the review and I hope you enjoy the book. Ann

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      I enjoyed your review very much. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. Very well written review.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thank you Spirit Whisperer; I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I appreciate you reading and commenting. Ann

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      6 years ago from Isle of Man

      I love reading and in recent years have developed a love of audiobooks. This one is definitely on my to read list. Thank you.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      7 years ago from SW England

      Faith A Mullen: I suggest you get on and read it as soon as possible, it's well worth it. Thanks for reading and I'm glad it inspired you to get on down to the library! Happy New Year!

    • Faith A Mullen profile image

      Faith A Mullen 

      7 years ago

      This has been on my list of want-to-reads for a couple of months now. Reading this review makes me want to read it even more! Will have to find it at the library.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      7 years ago from SW England

      Thanks Jools99! I appreciate you dropping by and taking the time to read. Glad you enjoyed the book too.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      I read The Book Thief earlier this year and really enjoyed it in spite of its subject matter. You have done a great job of reviewing it here and whet the appetite for anyone who has yet to read it.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      8 years ago from SW England

      Hi Dolores. It certainly is an interesting read. It's a novel aimed originally at young adults but now billed as an adult read. It's certainly good for either and definitely very serious subject matter. Readers themselves seem to have 'upgraded' it to an adult read!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Sounds like an interesting read. You said that the novel started as a story for young adults - is this a novel for young adults?

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      8 years ago from SW England

      Thanks for visiting and commenting Hyphenbird. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Apart from the interesting historical perspective, the characters are so vivid.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      8 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      I have this book on my Kindle and have been delaying reading it. After your review I will start it next. Thanks for this great review.


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