Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 0375931007
Perhaps one of the first, and most noticeable, facts about this quirky book is that it is narrated in stream-of-consciousness by Death. In the introduction, Death proves to be a reliable, if distracted and strange, witness.
The book itself is Death’s telling of Leisel Meminger, the book thief, during World War Two in Molching Germany, in a mixture of his own words and memories, and Leisel’s written words. Death not only is present for the killing, but also notes the little things that show the almost cruel fact that life goes on (such as soccer games and running jokes).
The Book Thief is by no means an easy read (considering that every few pages Death inserts some small piece of information that, seemingly random, made an impression to him at the time) but it is broken into sections and chapters in such a way that it wouldn’t be overwhelming for the classroom or a book club.
The novel would work well if paired with Holocaust poetry (for contrast as well as comparison) or simply with the WWII section of world history. It would be a good reminder for students that the Germans during WWII were human as well.
Zusak’s use of German, his description of Hitler Youth, and the portrayals of both the Nazi and those who quietly disagreed make the tale believable. While the character of Death itself is exaggerated and the flow of time is jagged at times, the actual humans in the story are believable people with hopes, dreams, and words. This is a good example of someone outside a culture writing an authentic representation.
Cybil Award-2006 (Finalist)
Michael L. Printz Award-2007 (Honor Book)
Young Australians’ Best Book Award-2013 (Shortlist Fiction)
Kirkus—“’When Death tells a story, you pay attention. Liesel Meminger is a young girl growing up outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, and Death tells her story as “an attempt-a flying jump of an attempt-to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.”’
Publishers Weekly—“This hefty volume is an achievement—a challenging book in both length and subject, and best suited to sophisticated older readers. The narrator is Death himself, a companionable if sarcastic fellow, who travels the globe “handing souls to the conveyor belt of eternity.” Death keeps plenty busy during the course of this WWII tale, even though Zusak (I Am the Messenger\n) works in miniature, focusing on the lives of ordinary Germans in a small town outside Munich.”
Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. January 2006. (Vol. 74, No. 2). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=0375831002
Publishers Weekly. Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=0375831002