Looking through Death’s eyes in “The Book Thief”

book thiefIncoming freshmen at Seton Hill University were given the book “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak to read before the first semester. Having read Zusak’s “I Am The Messenger” and hearing the hype about the film adaptation of “The Book Thief”, I decided to give this novel a go.

The first interesting aspect about “The Book Thief” is that it’s narrated by Death. Death is a very interesting character because we get to see the world through Death’s eyes, and Death can sense the world through the eyes of our main character, Liesel Meminger.

“The Book Thief” follows young Liesel as she leaves her real mother and moves to Himmel Street, or “Heaven” Street, in Germany during the height of World War II.

As someone who has taken four years of German, the occasional German words that crop up are accurate and fit the feel of the story. Don’t worry about having to know German, any time a German word is used, it’s translated right after.

Our Book Thief, Liesel, is an interesting lead character. Not knowing anything about this book before reading it, I expected someone with the name “Book Thief” to be intelligent and well read. Liesel is actually quite terrible at reading and struggles with it through a good portion of the book.

The rest of the characters that round out the novel are unique and interesting, to say the least. From the kind Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster-father, to her foul-mouthed foster-mother Rosa Hubermann, to the boy-next-door who’s obsessed with Jesse Owens, Rudy Steiner, every character is given a complex personality. Each character goes through hardships and changes over the course of the novel.

“The Book Thief” is set during WWII in Germany and Zusak doesn’t shy away from the mistreatment of Jews and German citizens who don’t support Hitler. Max Vanderburg is a German-Jew that the Hubermann’s shelter for some time during the war, and his suffering is shown, especially when he is unable to leave the house even during an air-raid.

“The Book Thief” is an excellent read and it was nearly impossible to put down. At around 550 pages, “The Book Thief” can take awhile to get through, but I guarantee it’s worth it. Or, if you simply don’t enjoy reading, try the film.


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