The Book Reviews – Website

June 5, 2010

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Page Length: 550

Reading Level: 9

Genre: Historical Fiction (Holocaust)

PLOT SUMMARY: The Book Thief begins in Nazi Germany in 1939 where Leisel Meminger’s mother is sent to the concentration camp “Dachau” for being a communist. Leisel loses her brother to the winter elements – her first experience with Death. Leisel’s second experience with Death is the demise of her mother. Death narrates this story. Devastation is prevalent throughout Germany. Upon burial of her brother, Leisel steals a book, The Grave Digger’s Manual, despite the fact that she could not read. Leisel is sent to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann on Himmel Street in Molching. Rosa is known for her constant cursing and aloof behavior. Hans is known for his caring, mild mannered attitude, and accordion playing. Leisel takes immediate liking to Hans when he plays the accordion. While fraught with nightmares over the death of Leisel’s mother, Hans sits by Leisel’s side throughout the night. Eventually Hans teaches her to read. This is Leisel’s first realization of the power of words used as a distraction and as a comfort.

Over time, Leisel makes several friends. Rudy is a young man who is around her age and is constantly asking her for a kiss to which she refuses. Max is a Jewish man who is hidden from the Nazis in the Hubermann’s basement. Max writes books for Leisel using the painted-over pages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. When Max becomes deathly ill, Leisel reads to him – another example of the power of words used to distract or comfort. A third friend is the mayor’s wife who allows Leisel to use her library to read books. Leisel sneaks into the mayor’s wife’s house to steal one book at a time. The war is getting closer and closer to Himmel street, so the Germans are looking for basements with adequate size to use as bomb shelters. Fortunately, the Hubermann’s basement was too small so Max could continue to hide in their basement. Leisel would visit Max everyday in the basement reading to him and describing the weather and daily events to him. Death is everywhere and it makes comments upon all the souls “he” has to carry. During one of the air-raids in which citizens of Himmel Street had to go to the bomb shelter, a neighbor’s basement, Leisel begins to read from her book to calm herself. She finds that by reading aloud, the others are also comforted and distracted from their fears. One day, Hans Hubermann whom Leisel has come to deeply love tries to give a Jewish person a piece of bread during the Nazi’s parade of Jews. Hans is badly beaten and then fears that he will be sent to a concentration camp and that their house will be searched. Max, the Jewish person hiding in their basement, has to leave the home on Himmel Street for fear of capture and punishment of the Hubermanns for helping a Jewish person. Hans was not captured but was forced to join the Nazi military. Leisel’s friend and Rudy’s father, Alex Steiner, was also forced to join the military because he would not allow one of his sons to join the military. Leisel, who is distraught by the absence of her father, loss of her brother, loss of Rudy, and loss of Max, begins to write her life’s story in her basement. Does Leisel survive? Do Max, Hans, Alex Steiner, Rudy and Rosa survive? Does Rudy ever get his kiss? Why were the stolen books so important to the book thief after all? Why is Death afraid of humans?         

REVIEW: The Book Thief is an excellent story which is told from the perspective of Death, the narrator, in war-torn Germany. Markus Zusak transports the reader back to this era with well developed characters and settings in which one can almost empathize with the fears and devastation of the times. Zusak’s writing is so vivid that one can almost feel Leisel’s emotions for the loss of her mother and brother, feel Leisel’s love for Hans, feel what life is like in the basement for Max, feel the suspense when the book thief steals a book, feel the daily experiences on Himmel Street, and feel the fear of the Nazis. This book is definitely a page turner. One realizes that words have the power to uplift, to comfort, to manipulate, and to destroy humankind.  After reading The Book Thief, one can not help but examine one’s own values. What would one do if one was a non- Jewish person in Germany during “Hitler’s Germany”? Would one deny joining the Nazi Party knowing that one would not get work to provide for one’s family? Most importantly, would one hide a Jewish person or Jewish family risking one’s own family’s life? These are powerful questions evoked by reading The Book Thief.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone,  5 steps of the writing process, narration, irony

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Holocaust and Death. One must consider the sensitivity of the student who is reading the book due to the subject matter.

RELATED BOOKS:  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Schindler’s List by Thomas Kineally, Anne Frank: A Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, Those Who Save Us by Jeanna Blum, Night by Elie Wiesel, Number the Stars Lois Lowry, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Books by the same author: I Am the Messenger, Getting the Girl, Fighting Ruben Wolfe.

MOVIE & MEDIA CONNECTIONS: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2009), Valkyrie (2008), Schindler’s List (2004), The Book Thief (expected release 2010), The Book Thief (book video by Jon Haller 2006), Elie Wiesel Goes Home (1985), Anne Frank- The Whole Story (2001), Holocaust (1978), The Devil’s Arithmetic (1999)


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel


1 Comment »

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