The Book Thief by Markus Zusak came out in 2005, and has since then been made into an award-winning film. It is a novel that has touched those who have read it, and leaves the reader with a good deal to reflect on. Hannah Walton-Hughes discusses its key characters, plot and themes, and explains why this book is such a distinctive piece of literature.
Historical. Informative. Page-turning. Dramatic. Gripping. Emotional. Unique. Heart-wrenching. Here are just a few adjectives to sum up what has become my favourite book, and, arguably, the best of its genre.
Let’s begin with what I feel is The Book Thief’s ultimate selling point: its narrator. Zusak’s choice to place the character of Death as the objective, omniscient narrator, was a technique that, as far as I am aware, had never been done before. I know that when I started the book, I expected Death to be a ruthless, cold-hearted, life-robbing shadow of a person. I could not have been more surprised! Death actually became one of my favourite characters. It is very clear, all the way from the start of the book to its shocking conclusion, that he does not remotely enjoy taking away life. It pains him, and we pity him for it.
Zusak creates the deepest character in her [Rosa]; a saber-tooth tiger with a heart of gold
Whilst this book is populated with extremely compelling characters, Leisel and Rosa were the two that really stood out for me. Leisel is captivating from page one; she has such fire and determination, even after the hard times she has been through. When she gets knocked down, she jumps straight back up again. Whilst Rosa is without doubt a harsh mother (and very free with her language!) Zusak creates the deepest character in her; a saber-tooth tiger with a heart of gold.
In a historical sense, we can learn so much from this book. The devastation of war is always an incredibly difficult topic to novelise, but Zusak does so perfectly; by setting the book in World War 2 Nazi Germany, he not only uses the character of Max to show the unthinkable terror faced by Jewish people, but also demonstrates how ordinary German citizens suffered the war in very similar ways to the British. Whilst the tone overall is very dark, I feel that The Book Thief also tackles simpler but equally important themes; the purity of human kindness, friendship, childhood love, and the importance of literature in creating identity and belonging.
I won’t give away any spoilers, but I would encourage readers to prepare themselves for several emotional blows
The foreshadowing throughout this book is incredible. Death develops a habit of presenting the reader with an idyllic scene, and then completely destroying it with a disturbing glimpse into the future. Nevertheless, even with all the preparation and hints, nothing prepared me for the devastating conclusion of the book. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I would encourage readers to prepare themselves for several emotional blows.
I could not recommend this book more; you are missing out on so much if you have not read this exceptional piece of literature. It is a long read of 584 pages, but I implore you to stick with it; every page is significant, every description memorable. This is not a book to be skim read or summarised. It is one to be experienced and treasured. Prepare to be educated and intrigued. Prepare to be incensed by the wickedness of the war and all that came with it. Bring to The Book Thief an open-mind, a love of reading and a thirst for something truly unique. And bring boxes of tissues. This is an emotional rollercoaster you will be glad you embarked on.
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