The Book Thief Book Review

by Shirley Mak


Coming from someone who fell in love with the book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read in a heartbeat, it’s still surprising that Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief has resonated so deeply with American audiences that it is hailed on the back cover as being “the most talked about book of 2006.”

After all, we are a culture not especially known for being indulgent in our reading habits. Not that we’re afraid to indulge. Super sized fries, Hollywood blockbusters, and sports viewings– these are just a few of the things out there that we never mind having too much of. But reading? Nah. In this fast paced world, who really has the time to slow down and simply look at words anymore? Especially when the next episode of this season’s biggest reality TV show is currently airing four days out of the week?

And yet it is one girl’s unabashed love for words, words in their truest and most blatant form, which drives the entire narrative behind The Book Thief. True, one could argue that the book is about many things, centered most predominantly on the tragedy that was the Holocaust. Zusak’s bestselling story follows Liesel Meminger, a young orphan girl living in war-torn Germany during the Third Reich.

Liesel’s life, already dismal in its prospects, changes drastically when two things happen. One, she finds a book on the ground and keeps it. Thus begins her long career as the silent (at least to onlookers) and stealthy book thief.

Two, her foster family hides a Jew in their house.

Although there are other moments in the narrative worth noting, both for their emotional scope and their contribution to an already powerful story, it is the bridge between these two moments in particular that cements the novel as a must-read, especially in a culture that seems to have forgotten how to (and why we must) appreciate the written word.

Words fuel everything in this book, and not just in the literal sense. Words shape the characters, they build momentum, they break and form relationships, they perpetrate power, both the kind used to hurt and the kind used to heal, but most of all they linger.

Read this book (hell, just READ) and you’ll see exactly what I mean when I say this. There’s nothing more powerful than words in The Book Thief. Nothing. Not the Book Thief. Not Hitler. Not the bombs and the soldiers and the whips. Not even death, who, by the way, is the one telling the story. I know, weird, right? But you know what’s even weirder? The fact that one out of four Americans read NO books in 2006.

So do yourself a favor and don’t become a statistic. Be grateful that unlike Liesel, we don’t have to steal books in this country in order to read them. Pick up your copy of The Book Thief (and a couple more books like it) today. All hail the power of words!