Author ¦ Markus Zusak
Length ¦ Long
Year first published ¦ 2005
Synopsis ¦ The story takes place in Nazi Germany during the World War II, where one orphan tries to make sense of friendship and love despite the horrors of poverty and war violence.
The story begins with Liesel, our book thief, and her new foster home. Though she was uneducated and struggled with language learning at school — she founded comfort in books. In the end, it was her book-stealing and story-telling talents that helped the Jewish man her family was hiding and her loved ones through the day.
My reading of The Book Thief actually began with a slow start. Despite being a fan of historical non-fiction, the first portion of the book left a weak impression, and the book was eventually abandoned by the bedside. However, when I picked it up a month later, I was glad I did. The book's slow progression flowed at a steady pace, and trickled into its quietly impactful ending. The pacing never raced past a trot, and in hindsight, that was one of the book's greatest beauty. It was not just a story being told — it unfolded a journey of its own.
The author sends us a message: death is an inescapable part of life. Yet, this is a story about how people survived through incomprehensible cruelty and coped with their losses. How despite hardships, they made one each other's world brighter.
Book cover design ¦ I read my books on my Kindle. So for this journal, I've decided to design my own book cover based on my interpretation of the story.
Spoilers warning: Please do not continue if you have not read the book.
"One was a book thief. The other stole the sky."
The book started off with the introduction of Death the narrator, and Liesel's arrival at to her new foster home.
Throughout the book, the reader is given rich details of the protagonist's life in her new neighbourhood. Liesel's everyday life is dotted with memories both grisly and pretty. Before I realize it, I grew to love the fearless yet tentative Rudy. My heart reached out for the apologetic yet resilient Max. And who can forget the-good-woman-for-a-crisis Rose and the angelic, fatherly Hans. For a while, all of the neighbours on Hummel Street became a part of my life and I have become Liesel herself.
On top of the immersive world building, I also enjoyed Zusak's use of lush metaphors, especially in the form of Liesel's childish and creative thoughts. She said: "The sun-- looks like a pat of softened butter-- melting-- into a warm, creamy mashed-potatoes cloud-- in the middle of a bottomless powder-blue bowl."
Yet, there are times when Death's narration fell flat. Its omnipresent voice committed the fallacy of more "telling than showing". Often times, future events were spoiled before they took place. However, Death's detached observations did work well in certain scenes. Needless to say, its role was most effective and elicited very strong emotions towards the end.
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
One other notable aspect of the book were Max's hand written pages and illustrations. They were refreshing, and made Zusak's imaginative world all the more authentic. It also worked to further enhance one of the book's core themes — the power of words and storytelling. Through Max's tale, Liesel's experiences and Death's perception, the author demonstrated that words can heal and influence. The message was concise and compelling.
With less and less people interested in books these day, I hope that we can all reconnect with our own inner book thief. Reading helps cultivate an open mind, a virtue I think current society would highly benefit from.