Book Review: The Book Thief

the-book-thiefRating: Fire starstarstarstarstar

Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers in order to attempt to do justice to this book. Also, the book spoils itself multiple times. 

Okay, so let me just get this out there. This book is the best book I’ve ever read. I’m really going to try to capture what makes it so amazing but I know I won’t, so you’ll just have to read it to truly understand. Also, this review is going to be a bunch of jumbled and disjointed thoughts, because my brain stretched in multiple directions when I finished. But the book itself is really a collection of disjointed notes that somehow make sense and tie together and you wouldn’t it any other way.

Instead of a normal book format, The Book Thief is a story interspersed with flashbacks and flash forwards, asides from the narrator and descriptions of color, dictionary definitions and non-dictionary definitions. As you can guess from the title, this novel has a lot to do with books, so it is broken up into ten parts each dedicated to a book the book thief read and impacted her. 

“It’s a small story really, about, among other things:

* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery”

This story centers around a little girl, Liesel Meminger, in Nazi Germany. This girl has faced a lot of hardships and tragedy in the first nine years of her life, and after she moves outside Munich to live with her foster parents, she discovers the power of words. As we follow her through years of her life, we learn about the daily life of Germans during World War II, and the impact of books on the soul. 

“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

Something I loved about this book was that it shows you the other side of the coin: the German people during World War II. Many of these people in the story are willingly a part of the Nazi party, and actively persecute Jews and those who are different. So should we feel sorry for them when they huddle in bomb shelters and pray for their lives? Or when they cry on street corners when they learn about their loved ones being killed? The book doesn’t answer this question, but it does point out to you that these people were still humans. They did horrible things, but they still loved their families and homes and they were destroyed. Their lives were still in danger. It shows the complexity of human nature, the good mixed with the bad. 

“In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer—proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water.”

Every review of this book must mention that the narrator is Death. During Nazi Germany, it’s a pretty fitting choice, because Death seemed to be all that surrounded them. Death foreshadows what will happen to the characters, and instead of ruining it for you, it heightens your anticipation and makes you nervous. While you might expect Death t be heavy and sinister, he wasn’t. He was dry and humorous, and ultimately is just looking for something beautiful in a dark world. 

“Even death has a heart.”

Liesel Meminger. She has seen so much in her short life, and even at the end of the story she’s only in her early teens. Liesel is the heart of the story, the one who makes it beat, and ultimately the character that will rip you apart inside. She is the strongest character I’ve ever read about, but it’s all graceful, subtle strength. The way she reads to others while they are in bomb shelters, or continues to walk after being beaten down by soldiers, or continues to live after her whole world ends. Liesel is strong because she keeps on going. She’s also persistent and loving and caring and clever and possesses a huge heart and a thirst for words and an innate goodness even with all the bad surrounding her. 

“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.

She was the book thief without the words.

Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

Rudy Stein. If there was one character I would bring back, it would be him. Rudy didn’t deserve his ending. He was too good and sweet. Throughout everything that happened, he loved Liesel, and all he wanted from her was a kiss. A single kiss, that he didn’t even receive until it was too late. If I was mad at Liesel for anything, it was for waiting and not kissing Rudy when she knew she loved him back. From the beginning, Liesel and Rudy had an enviable friendship. They argued, they played, they stole together, and they held each other up. The two words I will always associate with Rudy are: Jesse Owens and beautiful. This, I think, captures his entire essence. 

“I carried [Rudy] softly through the broken street…with him I tried a little harder [at comforting]. I watched the contents of his soul for a moment and saw a black-painted boy calling the name Jesse Owens as he ran through an imaginary tape. I saw him hip-deep in some icy water, chasing a book, and I saw a boy lying in bed, imagining how a kiss would taste from his glorious next-door neighbor. He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.” -Death, speaking about Rudy.

Hans Hubermann. I don’t think any words will capture all that he is, but maybe an image will. Imagine a man, at two am, sneaking into a little girl’s room as she screams about her nightmares. He sits there, comforting her, not speaking, until she is calmed down. Then they walk downstairs to the basement with a book and he, with his fourth grade education, slowly teaches her how to read. Every single night. That is who Hans Hubermann was. He was selfless, soft-spoken, courageous, understanding, a promise keeper, an accordion player, and pure goodness. 

“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones.”

Rosa Hubermann. Oh, Mama. She loved Liesel, she really did, but she showed it in her own way, through her curses and yells. The more she cursed at you, the more she loved you. It’s funny how she and Hans were in love, considering how strong-willed and outspoken she was. But they had the important things in common. Their big hearts and courage held them together. 

“Make no mistake, the woman had a heart. She had a bigger one that people would think. There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving. Remember that she was the woman with the instrument strapped to her body in the long, moon-slit night.” 

Max Vanderburg. I had a special affinity to him, because as a Jew, I am sensitive to the plights of Jews during World War II. There are a couple words that I associate with Max: feathers, words, bravery, boxing, survivor. Again, these are all disjointed, but I’m going to attempt. Max was a fighter; fighting friends, fighting Hitler, and fighting Death. He was a survivor. He had hair like feathers and a heart of gold. He had the skill of making books for a little girl named Liesel that lightened her day and reminded her of her power. When Liesel and Max found each other in the end, I cried. Like sobbed. After hiding in the Hubermann’s basement for two years, and being captured and sent to Dachau, living and reuniting with his savior and friend turned on the waterworks.

“When death captures me,” the boy vowed, “he will feel my fist in his face.”

Alex Stein. There’s not much to say about him except that he is the one person who understands what Liesel went through. He lost his whole world on the same night that Liesel did, and for that, he deserves a section in my review. 

Honestly, this book just shook my entire world. Thirty minutes after finishing it, I’m still crying, my teeth are chattering, and I’m hiccuping and shaking. I worked myself up until my face was red. That’s what this book does to you. It tears you up inside, stomps on your heart, punches you in the stomach, but in the end, no matter how much pain it causes you, you don’t regret reading it. In fact, you wonder how you could’ve gone on for so long without reading it. It’s just beautiful. The imagery, the words, the characters, the stories, the narrator, the sentences, the paragraphs. It was almost like a poem, that’s how beautiful it was. 

“She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Liesel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection.”

The ending wasn’t satisfying. It rips you apart and makes you tremble. But this book wasn’t made to be satisfying. It wasn’t made to be pretty or neat or clean. It was meant to show human nature: the good, the bad, and the ugly. There were good moments in it, too many to count. There was champagne drinking in the summer with Papa and racing with Rudy and playing soccer on Himmel Street and bringing the weather to Max and and waiting and writing and reading and hugging and love. But overall, this book was written to make you think about what humans are capable of. The ending couldn’t be happy. World War II wasn’t happy. The ending just had to be. 

I tried to portray how much this book changes you. I don’t have a nice wrap up, just a request. Please, read this book. Please. 

Have you read The Book Thief? What did you think? Who is your favorite character?

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