Book Review

‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak Review

There is no question that the atrocities that the Nazi government committed are among the darkest moments in the history of humanity. However, these atrocities gave rise to such works as the Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This novel takes readers through the experiences of those who witnessed the Nazi horrors. Furthermore, it challenges readers to understand that in the midst of death and evil, compassion, kindness and humanity can still thrive. When he wrote the novel, Zusak must have intended to remind his audience that the human spirit is remarkably resilient and inherently beautiful. The novel is easy to recommend, particularly for readers who wish to have their notions of mankind challenged and those seeking some lessons on history.

Zusak set the events in his novel in Nazi Germany. These events center on Liesel, a young girl who struggles to make sense of the horrors that she witnesses while holding on to her innocence and faith in mankind. Throughout the novel, Liesel encounters various other characters who help to shed light on the complexity of the human experiences. For example, some of Liesel’s interactions are with Hans Hubermann, a bold and compassionate man who risks his life in hosting a Jew. 

In addition to highlighting the courage that humans often demonstrate in the face of serious threats, the Book Thief also sheds light on how human courage trumps fear and injustice. For example, Zusak describes how Hans, one of the key characters in the novel offers bread to a Jewish prisoner. Hans understood full well that any display of kindness and generosity extended to Jews was a serious violation of established standards and expectations. His violation of these expectations suggests that Zusak aimed to celebrate the friendship that holds humans together.

Any review of Zusak’s book is not complete without a look at how the novel reflects the reality of humanity. While Zusak indicates that humans are capable of unimaginable evil, he also assures readers that humans are inherently good natured and kind. He conveys this message through the wide range of German characters that readers encounter. While some of these characters are ruthless Nazi soldiers, others are refreshingly generous, courageous and tremendously warm.

Zusak’s book presents implications for some of the issues that the world faces today. Race relations are among these issues. Reading the novel leaves one reminded that such problems as racism and hate can be addressed through tolerance. For instance, Zusak describes Rudy Steiner’s obsession with Jesse Owens. Steiner symbolizes the power of reaching out and seeking to understand the cultures of others. Her admiration of Jesse Owens makes it clear that racial healing can occur through cross-cultural engagements.

While the Book Thief primarily highlights the experiences of Jews in Nazi Germany, it also inspires reflection and discussion on the damage that loss can cause. The novel achieves this through the experiences of Ilsa Hermann, a woman who endures immense anguish following the death of her son. All those who are struggling with personal losses will find that Hermann’s pain reflects their own. Essentially, the Book Thief is a vital resource for processing and dealing with loss.

To better understand the Book Thief, there is a need to consider the circumstances that surrounded its creation. According to Zusak, when he wrote the novel, he was driven by real experiences of sorrow and devastation. The fact that painful experiences can lead to the creation of such work highlights the power and resilience of the human character. Instead of yielding and accepting defeat, individuals tap their painful experiences to highlight the strength of their spirits. 

Whereas it is true that the Book Thief is insightful, there are some issues that erode its impact. Among these is the novel’s overly somber and serious tone. It is difficult for readers to emerge from the book with a sense of fulfillment. Instead, reading the book elicits feelings of despair and disgust at the boundless evil that humans can commit. However, Zusak manages to close the book with the reminder that while humans are broken and capable of unspeakable evil, they are also encouragingly open, creative, and bold enough to confront even death itself.

Zusak relies mostly on the interactions among characters to advance his message. However, the novel’s title also plays an important role. Through this title, Zusak communicates the power of reading. A book thief, Liesel is the focus of the entire book. Her love for reading introduces her to characters who have a significant impact on her life. In fact, she goes as far as stealing books set to be burnt by the Nazis. Liesel would undoubtedly serve as an effective ambassador for scholarship and reading.

How humans are able to recover objects and put them to better use is yet another theme that Zusak’s novel tackles. For example, he outlines how Max reclaimed a copy of Mein Kampf to pen a short story. Max’s actions are a reflection of human ingenuity. Even in the darkest moments, humans are still able to find joy in what was designed to cause sorrow. Today, the world is in desperate need for individuals who are able to re-imagine and redefine painful experiences into memorable moments of bliss.

When he wrote the book, Zusak cannot have imagined that it would have the impact that it has had. Today, this novel has gained a cult following as its themes resonate with many readers. While it can be dark and depressing, the novel is testament of human triumph. For any individual who is looking to be amazed, re-assured and have their passions for mankind reignited, it will be difficult to find a more appropriate book. 

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (36 votes, average: 4.10 out of 5)

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