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Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

book thief high quality
book thief high quality
book thief high quality


Highlights: Liesel and Rudy's friendship, and Allan Corduner's voice of Death in the Audible book version.
Synopsis: The Book Thief follows the adventures of Liesel Meminger as she comes of age in Nazi Germany.
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Reading Recommendation

Total Score
13/ 14

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1 total rating



The characters are realistic. The children get into trouble and frustrate their parents just like they are supposed to even though their situation (Nazi Germany during WWII) is anything but typical.


Death, the narrator, often gives away future events, which forces the reader to come to terms with losing characters before their time. This technique makes it hard for readers to get attached to some characters.

Posted February 3, 2014 by

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Multi-tasking is the art of performing more than one task at a single time, but one should only consider herself a successful multi-tasker when she is able to combine activities she truly loves. For me, I feel a sense of multi-tasking euphoria each time I go for a walk, because while I am walking, I am also listening to some great literary work and thus being transported to whenever and wherever that work is set. I walk, “read,” and travel all at the same time; burning calories is an added perk.

By using the Audible books program on my iPod while walking, I have finished many novels; my most recent “read” was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The unabridged version of the book comes in at a little under 14 hours, and while it took nearly a month for me to finish it, The Book Thief was worth every blister I got on my feet during that time.


Set in Molching, Germany, a little town just outside Munich, during World War II, the novel follows the adventures of Liesel Meminger as she fights for survival in Nazi Germany. Narrated by Death himself, an appropriate choice considering the carnage of WWII, the story opens with Liesel accompanying her mother and younger brother on a train trip to Molching where the children are to be placed in foster care because of their mother’s assumed Communist associations. On the trip, Liesel’s brother dies, and Death meets the girl for the first time as he stoops down to collect her brother’s tiny soul. At her brother’s burial, Liesel steals her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, when it falls from the pocket of one of the boys digging the grave. This action sets Liesel on a course of book thefts that will occupy much of her time in the years to come. For now, though, Liesel can only marvel at the words because she cannot read them.

Once she is in Molching and settled in with the Hubermann family (Hans and Rosa), Liesel begins life anew. Along the way she becomes friends and co-conspirators with Rudy Steiner (who wants nothing more than to kiss her), makes enemies with some of the toughs in the neighborhood, and finds herself helping her foster family hide a young Jewish man named Max Vandenburg. Hiding a Jew could lead to serious punishment, even death, for the offenders, but Hans Hubermann is not a man to go back on his word, no matter what the cost.

As the story unfolds, Death becomes more and more entranced with Liesel and the people she loves most. With someone like Death lurking in the shadows, readers should beware the inevitable outcome; besides, Death provides an ominous warning at the beginning of the work that he makes good on later. Still, readers will not be able to stop themselves from cheering on the main character’s little victories, nor will they be able to find fault in her thievery. After all, what Liesel is really stealing is the knowledge and power books contain within their pages.


The Book Thief is not a new novel; in fact, Knopf published it in the United States in 2007. Continued interest in the book prompted its being made into a full-length feature film, starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as the Hubermanns and Sophie Nelisse as Liesel. The movie was just released in November 2013, and while it did not garner grand reviews (see Godfrey Cheshire’s critique on the Roger Ebert website), the Audible version of it is enjoyable.

The book does have some problems. For one, readers may have a hard time believing that Liesel never gets punished for her thievery. The mayor’s wife, whom Liesel curses for everything she’s worth, becomes a valued ally in Liesel’s thefts. Even crusty old Rosa seems to ignore the arrival of new books, and this from a woman who punishes for the smallest infractions. Rosa physically punishes Liesel a few times, but more often she simply verbally assaults the girl by calling her a “saumensch” (German for female pig) throughout the book and using other such coarse language as “arschloch” and “saukerl.” Death assures the reader that Rosa is a kind and loving woman, although that is difficult to believe at times. Of Rosa, Death remarks,

Make no mistake, the woman had a heart. She had a bigger one than people would think. There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving.

Another issue is that the characters do not really grow or change a great deal. In a place like Nazi Germany, one would expect the atmosphere to alter the inhabitants of such a volatile location. Not so. Although Liesel and Rudy grow older, they remain much the same in thought and action throughout the work.

What the story does well is to provide another viewpoint of what it was like to live in Hitler’s world; only this time, the story is told from a young German girl’s perspective. Certainly, Jews suffered atrocities under Hitler’s rule that this generation cannot begin to imagine, but many of the Germans endured hardships, too. As made clear in the book, not all who said “Heil Hitler” did so willingly or with conviction. Liesel is adamant in her hatred of Hitler; she is slapped for saying so aloud in a place where she could be killed for such words.

Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.

Even Hans and Rosa defy Hitler’s commands by hiding Max. In public, Hans must apply to be a member of the Nazi party just like everyone else, but theirs is a world of contradictions that must be carefully navigated.

Listening to the book in Audible format adds another dimension to one’s overall reaction to it because the choice of narrator can make or break a novel’s success with readers. Fortunately, Allan Corduner does a great job narrating as Death, and through Zusak’s characterization and Corduner’s vocal performance, Death feels dangerously human. Corduner narrates at least 30 selections on the Audible website, and lent his talent to video game characters, including ones in the Harry Potter franchise; he has also starred in numerous film and television roles. Corduner’s vocal silkiness makes Death feel like an old friend by the work’s end, so I didn’t mind as much when he stole away several of the more entertaining characters.

Overall, The Book Thief is a solid read. It has been classified as a YA novel as well as historical fiction, but it’s one of those novels that should appeal to both groups because Zusak blends the two genres with a good deal of success. A novel that has the ability to engage listeners for 14 hours, and gave me a chance to burn some Christmas pounds, The Book Thief  is well worth the effort.

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Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.


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