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Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Parents, this book review contains spoilers.
But you don’t have time to read a book yourself anyway, do you? That’s why you’re reading this review. You must be able to tell at a glance whether or not The book thief suits your child. So let’s get started…
What do you get from a book set in Hitler’s Germany – and told by Death?
You get a poignant, moving story that’s somehow heartbreaking and triumphant at the same time.
The story is about Liesel, a girl placed with poor foster parents in a house outside Munich, Germany. Her foster father Hans paints houses and plays the accordion. Her foster mother, Rosa, washes other people’s clothes for pay, when she can get a job. And Liesel? Well, she steals books and other things – but mostly books.
The Good Stuff
The book thief there are many examples of love, kindness and self-sacrifice. Liesel and her foster father develop a special father-daughter bond not long after she is brought into his home. He sits by her bedside every night so he can be there to comfort her after her nightmares. He teaches her to read. He includes her in his life. He is just a wonderful and loving dad.
Her foster mother swears like a sailor – mostly in German. And she is a strict disciplinarian who does not believe in “saving the stick”. But her love for Liesel and her big heart become very apparent by the end of the book.
And there’s more…
– The mayor’s wife invites Liesel into her home library to borrow books to read – and even lets her break in and “steal” the books after they’ve had an argument. He later takes in Liesel after her foster parents are killed in a bombing.
– Hans keeps a promise made years earlier and hides a Jew named Max in his basement.
– When Max is terminally ill, Liesel searches the streets for discarded items to bring him as a “gift”.
– Liesel reads her books to the people gathered in the bomb shelter to distract them from the attack.
– Hans tries to sneak a piece of bread to a malnourished Jew who is being taken to a concentration camp.
The reader gets images of wartime violence The book thief. Jews are paraded down the street and soldiers harass them. A bomber pilot crashes his plane and dies in front of Liesel and her friend Rudy. A soldier’s legs are blown off at the knees – and he dies. Bombs destroy entire streets and cities. And the narrator Death describes taking the souls of the slain.
But that’s not all…
– Liesel was whipped several times by the foster mother for bad behavior – as well as by the teacher at school. She is also whipped by a Nazi soldier when she tries to talk to Max while he is being taken to a concentration camp.
– A returned soldier in Liesel’s town hanged himself.
– Rudy was almost strangled during the fight. He is later beaten by another boy and gets a black eye.
– Hans is whipped by a Nazi soldier for trying to help a Jew.
– A man died in an accident with a truck – and Hans’ leg was broken.
Magic, sorcery and spirituality
Liesel prays to God to protect Max, the Jew they hid in their basement. Rosa also prays that God will bring her husband home safely from serving in the military.
There is none. Rudy always asks Liesel for a kiss – and she always turns him down. However, as she matures, she falls in love with a boy. And she kisses him when she finds him dead after the bombing.
Drugs and alcohol
Hans gives Liesel champagne to drink. He also gets heavily drunk the night before he has to report to the German army for duty.
The book thief it is liberally sprinkled with profanity. Some of the swear words are in German. Swear words like a- -… a – – hole… d – – n… he – -… shit… shit-t… and b- -tard appear nearly three dozen times throughout the book. In addition, God’s name has been misused a dozen times – and Jesus’ name has been misused over forty times.
The boy calls Liesel a whore and a whore. Men’s intimate parts are also mentioned by name.
Other negative things
Liesel is poor and loves books – so the only way to get them is to steal them. But she also joins a group of kids and steals other things from local farmers – like apples and potatoes.
Plus three boys are forced to strip naked in front of the nurse.
My two cents
The book thief is a beautifully written book. The author creates vivid word pictures that draw you, the reader, into the narrative. For such a simple story, it is extremely moving and powerful.
In addition, it gives you the opportunity to see the Holocaust and WWII Germany from a different perspective – through the eyes of Death and ordinary Germans.
But I have to admit… the profanity throughout the book ruined it for me a bit. The book thief recommended by the publisher for grades 9 and up, so I think it’s up to you, parents, if you want your teenager to read a book with so much foul language.
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