The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak


 book cover of   The Book Thief   by  Markus Zusak

It’s just a small story really, about, amongst other things:

  • a girl
  • some words
  • an accordionist
  • some fanatical Germans
  • a Jewish fist-fighter
  • and quite a lot of thievery. “

I finished The Book Thief this morning in a puddle of tears.  As the quote above states,  it is  a book about many things, but mostly, it is a book about words.  The power of words, the strength of them.  Their amazing ability  to exalt the human spirit, or at times, to destroy it. 

Liesel Meminger is 9 years old when her brother dies and her mother is forced to abandon her.  She goes to a foster home in Himmel, Germany to live with Hans and Rosa Huberman.  They are a bit odd, but have generous hearts and soon come to love Leisel.  Hans, is a loving and kind man who spend his nights keeping Leisel’s nightmares at bay by teaching her to read.  Leisel falls in love with words, reading, and books.  Books are a luxury for a poor family like the Hubermans and when Leisel steals a still smoking book from a book burning, she is dubbed the book thief.   In the backdrop is Nazi Germany.  Hitler is busy using his words to rule the world.  “yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words.  “I will never fire a gun,” he devised.  “I will not have to.”

One man remains unconvinced.  Hans Huberman.

“Some crunched numbers.

Since 1933, ninety percent of Germans showed unflinching support for Hitler.  That leaves 10 percent who didn’t.  Hans Huberman belonged to the ten percent.”

Though Hans does not support Hitler, he is careful not to show it to outsiders, and the dissent remains in the family alone until one day he is forced to make a difficult decision to hide a Jew in their basement.  His name is Max and he is the grown son of a man that saved Hans life.  The Hubermans treat Max as part of the family and they all grow quite fond of him, Leisel,  in particular.  The two of them form a powerful and touching friendship.  

Obviously, as the story unfolds, many good things, and many bad things happen, but the brilliance of this book lies not in the plot, but in the narrative.  For starters, Death personified, is the narrator.  “I do not carry a sickle or a scythe.  I only wear a hooded black rode when it’s cold.  And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance” (Death).  He tells us the story of the book thief in a tone mixed with sadness, cynicism, and regret.  His words poetic, and contemplative.  Zusak’s choice of making Death the narrator is a unique method of storytelling that serves the novel perfectly.  The writing is spectacular and unpredictable. 

I don’t just recommend this book, I beg you to read it.  Sure, it made me cry but it was worth every single tear.

While I was researching the book, I found an interesting quote that was used to compare themes from The Book Thief.  It is from The Magus by John Fowles.

The human race is unimportant.  It is the self that must not be betrayed.

I suppose I could say that Hitler did not betray himself.

…You are right.  he did not.  But millions of Germans did betray their selves.  That was the tragedy.  Not that one man had the courage to be evil.  But that millions had not the courage to be good.

Would you have had the courage to be good?  Would you have hidden a Jew in your basement in Nazi Germany?  I look into the innocent beautiful faces of my children and I can honestly say I don’t know. 

To be honest, before I went sniffing around online today, there was only one thing I did not like about The Book Thief.  The cover. 

 The Book Thief

This is the cover on my copy of the book and the only one I had seen before today.  I didn’t find it engaging or inviting.  It wasn’t indicative of the beautiful words, and meaning I would find within it.  In my I opinion, it didn’t do it justice.  So you can imagine my delight when I found two other versions of the cover today online.  One I have at the top of my post, which I think is lovely.  The other one, I thought was even better,  and I felt it captured the exact emotion of the book.  Unfortunalty,  I couldn’t upload a good looking version of it. 


This was the best I could do here at Bookie.  Please go here to see a much better version of this cover art.  It’s perfect.   I think.  Much like the story within it.



To listen to a NPR podcast of an interview with Marcus Zusak talking about The Book Thief go here.

To watch an interview with Marcus Zusak on ABC News click here.

 Listen to a podcast of Marcus Zusak discussing The Book Thief on The Book of Life.


65 Responses to “The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak”

  1. Please forgive any errors you might find above. I hate WordPress editor today and I’m sick of dealing with it. I’ll tidy it up a bit more later.
    I really need an editor……..

  2. I read that a few other bloggers are reading this or have read it and it has caught my attention but your review was even more compelling! I feel like I should go purchase it right now!!!

    I hope you do,..and that you enjoy it as much as I did!

  3. I read this book a few weeks ago, and to tell the truth I didn’t really “get it”. I’m happy to see that so many others did. Maybe I read too much praise of the book before I read it.

    That could be it. I’m a little worried about hyping it up too much just for that reson, but I guess its too late to turn back now.

  4. Begging me? I’m listening! Adding to my list.

    I hope you like it!

  5. Beautiful review, Sheri. And no need to beg, I’ll read it AGAIN. 🙂 Isn’t that cover art wonderful? I love the one at the top of your post. I’d seen the others but not the one of the girl reading. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it as much as I did. I have yet to hear a negative word about the book. A couple of lukewarm reviews, but nothing terrible.

    Thank you! The new cover art is fantastic. I can’t wait to buy the paperback version.

  6. Simply wonderful review! I am amazed that anyone would have a less than glowing review of this book. It was fun seeing the two different covers, both of which I like better than the dominoe cover. I am buying this book for my daughter and husband for Christmas.

    Thanks for the compliment. I enjoyed writing this. I hop you family likes the book.

  7. I love that first cover! I just picked this up from the library. I am so looking forward to reading it!

    Happy reading!

  8. I agree about the cover art – all I have seen is the cover with the dominos, which did nothing for me. I like the other two much better. Maybe I will wait until it comes out in paperback so I can buy the prettier cover one. Thanks for the review!

    Yes, I think I will buy the one with the more appealing cover.

  9. I loved this book and your review is wonderful. That cover at the top of your post is amazing. I’m with Les – I do plan on reading this one again. The thing I cannot understand is why this has been marketed as a YA book.

    Thanks! I wondered that as well…

  10. Though marketed as a YA novel, I keep it in the adult section of my bookstore as well. I think the days of separating demographics completely is over. Adults are more willing to try YA fiction ( as some of it is far more clever than that which is written specifically for their age group ) and teens and young adults are more than willing to delve into adult catagories !!!
    The Book Thief is a perfect way to bridge the gap !! Hopefully adults and young adults alike can glean many wonderful discussions from its tantalizing prose and haunting vision of Death in all of its incarnations.

    Melrose – Thanks for addressing this question. It makes much more sense now.

  11. Your review is wonderful. I am going purchase this book today at lunch!!!
    I am still trying to get through the Ted Bundy one. It usually doesnt take me this long to get through a book but I am having trouble with it for some reason. I think I am just in a slump.

    Thanks! I think you will like it.

  12. Ohh, I’ve heard about this book but didn’t really know what it was about. I’m hooked! Onto my list it goes!

    I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

  13. Oh yes, those two covers are much lovelier! I’m a sucker for good cover art. I think I like the first one best. I’m going to have to go out and buy this book I think, based on all the positive reviews I’ve been reading, yours included!

    I love good cover art too! Hope you like it!

  14. I’m glad you endorsed it. It’s on my Christmas list and is going to be a gift to several reader friends.

    I hope they all like it!

  15. I started reading this one a few days ago. I’m off to a slow start, and I’m hoping the foul language doesn’t continue. I guess the main reason the swearing bothers me is that it’s a Young Adult book.
    Hoping I get more into this as I continue…

    Yes, I see your point. I honestly don’t recall all too much swearing other than the bad German words, but I hope it got better for you.

  16. Ok, I bought it last night. I started reading and am falling in love with it already. I am a little aggravated that I cant really sit down to read for too long. Too much cooking and running around to do. I wanted to thank you again for this site. You have helped me get back into reading. I didnt realize how much a part of me reading was and how much happer I am when I have a good book to look forward to. I will not take that for granted again.

    Jeannine – THANKS! You are so sweet.

  17. Through teary eyes and a box of issue, I finishd The Book Thief today.
    Wonderful book. I would recomend it to everyone.
    I started on The Memory Keepers Daughter. Have you read this one?

    I’m so glad you,liked it! I keep hearing great things about The Memory Keepers Daughter, I need to add it to my list.

  18. I actually like all of those covers, which is really rare for me…usually I only like one and find the rest disappointing.
    I think you are the only one so far who has liked the dominoes cover. I like the third one best.

  19. I finished the Memory Keepers Daughter and loved it. I just started on
    Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson.
    Great, Let me know what you think.. If you want, I can even post your review on Bookie.

  20. Moria Hearne Says:

    Hey This book really sucked. It was really poorly writen, and it didn’t devop at all

  21. Hi-new to your site…I loved this book and the others that you have read…we must have extremely similar tastes! This novel was so poetic in it’s language…it reminded me of a poetic version of Steinbeck (loosely)…simple, concise and to the point, yet creating lasting words that leave an impression…I am a devoted fan to your site now to keep me on top of all the new reads…Thanks 🙂

  22. Ami – How sweet are you?! Thanks so much. Truth be told, I have been a big slacker lately but I am dedicted to re-directing myself. I think poetic is a great way to describe this book. I’m glad you liked it. Right now I am currently reading The Rum Diaries by Hunter S. Thompson. I was in the mood for something a little different. I hope you will continue to visit Bookie!

    Moria – Oh rats! I’m so sorry, you didn’t like The Book Thief. Have you read Twilight by Jennifer Meyer? That always seems to be a winner.

  23. i started reading the book thief a while back but it was not all too interesting for me at the start.. sounded a little too much like a poem so i think i might have read it like that. I began reading it again when i decided to base my English class assessment (I’m 14) upon the figurative techniques on The Book Thief. After I got into it, I couldn’t stop! I haven’t read a book in at least a year and now that I’ve finished The Book Thief I’m looking to start again. Any suggestions of any books similar to this one? Also for anyone else who is into tragic autobiographies as I am, try “Burned Alive” by Souad or ‘Two Prayers To One God’ .. can’t remember the author. Excellent reads, both of them. And by the way your review is the best and most informitive I’ve found – anywhere. 🙂

  24. Wow Sallie, you are a smart cookie for 14. WTG. I’ve always thought Toni Morrison’s books read like poetry…I’m sure there are others but I’m drawig a blank. Thanks for your compliment, it made my day.

  25. I have just finished The Book Thief and after I had composed myself I wanted to find out what others thought so stumbled upon this site. I am 51, so certainly not a young adult, and an avid reader. Catcher in the Rye has been my favourite book for as long as I can remember, but I think I may have to rethink now. Book Thief is an absolutely fantastic book, unusual and so moving. My wife, having watched me as I finished it can’t wait to start and I am envious of the treat that is waiting for her. Please read this book everyone!

  26. David – I emailed you my reply to your comments but it was sent back so here it is

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. I thought I’d drop you a line because you mentioned that Catcher In The Rye is your favorite book. I recently read another young adult book called Looking For Alaska by John Green. It’s a wonderful book that is often compared to Catcher In The Rye. It won the Michael Prinz Award in 2005 and still continues to get accolades. I would highly recommend it. Hope you stop by Bookie again, I have lots of updating to do! Happy Reading. – Sheri

  27. hi .. i’ve read the book thief many times as it is my one of my favourites. recently i started year twelve and was thinking of doing this book for my individual study in english… can anyone suggest a great book to compare and contrast with the book thief. one that shares the same themes of words and colours??

  28. hi there ..
    I just finished he book last night,and what can I say – I cried too.
    I really cried and understood how much books can cause.
    I loved this book. I read it in english instead of german, so it first was kinda hard to understand it all,but when I went on it all went fluently,words were surrounding me.

    But well I didn’t like the 2nd cover with the snow and the blood. It looked to muchlike a criminal roman.
    But the first one : really lovely. You can imagine what book Liesel’s reading- the shoulder shrug or the whistler ?
    When you click on the link of my “website” you can see the cover I got on my book. And to be honest I bought this book because of the title and the cover. It really made me nosy what it was about. When i owned my copy I saw that it was written by death and I coulcn’t wait to read it – and I didn#t get disappointed.

    Thank you for that smart review.
    luv from berlin/Germany

  29. Thanks for including The Book of Life’s interview with Markus Zusak as one of your resources. I just wanted to let you know that more recently I recorded a talk he gave at our local independent bookstore. He does some amazing personal storytelling as an example of how he puts a story together, as well as discussing and taking questions about The Book Thief. You can find it at Go to the December 2007 episode, “Meet Markus.”

  30. This book is so extremely beautiful. With each word, I was hooked. I’ve read a few books on this period of time however, they’ve never out shone this wonderful read. The fact that this book has no heros no saviors, yet has love and hate, good and evil, just makes me love this book even more. My heart went for dear Rudy, I still remember that winters night in finland sitting in bed my tears dripping onto the last pages of The Book Thief, how could Rudy die whilst Liesel lived? how could pure love like that die. Of corse being twelve years old doesn’t mean i know what love is. Still I can imagine and for the fact that some writer can explain in a book what love is to a twelve year old, well that’s a challenge its self. The Book Thief also explained to me about the power of words. What would of Adolf Hitler been without his words? a self explanitary question with an answer of nothing. I’ve realised beauty can come from the most unexpected places. xo

  31. Ella – what a beautiful voice you have! Keep writing!

  32. Tiffany Says:

    i had to read this for school, it was good.

  33. I just finished reading this book which a teacher highly recommended, and I loved it. Now I’m telling all of my friends and family members about it. I really like that Zusak’s style is poetic but not too flowery. Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres and this doesn’t disappoint!! (By the way I love the cover art with the little girl reading)

  34. christine Says:

    i finished the book thief and thought it was amazing. i want to read the whistler now. unfortunately, i cannot find the book and wonder if it truly existed. is this the case?

    I am as well begging anyone and everyone to read it, quite literally a life changing piece of art.

  36. I never realy understood this book, in my opinion the book doesnt begin to get ‘good’ (as some would say ) until the very end. For me it was a hard book to get into , and an even harder one to finish.

  37. To add one more comment to this book, i totaly agree with Ella in that i don’t understand why Rudy had to die. Rudy was by far one of my favorite characters and i can just see him as a kid pulling that Jesse Owens stunt. I don’t personally know Rudy , but this book kinda made me feel as if i knew him .

  38. It wasn’t until I reached the end of the novel did I realize the significance of the cover, and I actually find it extremely powerful.

    The dominoes demonstrated the connectedness of everyone within the novel… within the world at the time. As you said, everyone who WASN’T good should be held accountable.

    It was about how everyone was connected… with an overlaying theme of connectedness and fate… how decisions forever shape a person’s history (Rudy not joining the school, Liesel’s relationship with EVERYONE leading to her writing in the basement on the night of the bombing)…

    It also shows how everything affects and touches everything else… Hitler’s actions affected not only the Jews, but the Germans, and the entire world… (METAPHOR: Rudy’s dominos!)

    Also, groups were so intermingled … pg 350 “there was a group of French Jews in a German prison, on Polish soil.”

    I think the dominoes cover definitely encompasses this theme effectively.

  39. Aside from my little speech about it there, wonderful book review. I loved it as well and laid in bed just crying toward the end.

  40. 1 of the best books i’ve ever read but sad at the end [ i hate how death spoils the ending

  41. thekoolaidmom Says:

    This is my all-time number one favorite book. Loved your post!

  42. I am in the midst of this book now. I wonder where it was all my life. I only heard about it recently and I’m enjoying it (even the sad parts). Well written

  43. i love the book thief so much. i think its life changing and any of you saukerls n saumenschs out there who love it too are great c:

    • Haha, Saumensch! I agree. The Book Thief is truly a life changing book; I love the dark, cynical narrative from Death.

  44. I love this book it made me laugh cry and i hyad lots more emotions. this book is great and everyone should read it. when my son turns 3 im going to read it to him. it is very very very very good it has me at a loss for words

  45. I just finished this book tomight and I am still reeling from it. I am glad I decided to stay home and finish instead of waiting to finish on the bus or train like I normally do. I haven’t cried through the end of a book like that since I read Marley and Me. One of the things I was curious about with the book, which I still can’t find an answer to, is the books mentioned in the story. Does anyone know if they are real books or based on real books? I know they very easily could be made up but I part of me thinks they might not be. Personally I do not think this is a young adult book but then again I can’t tell you how long it has been since I read a young adult book other than Harry Potter.

    I just discovered the website but I have read a few of the books I have seen mentioned so far and loved them. I am curious and looking to explore! I am always on the look out for new book recommendations. ;o)

  46. sheri…
    i stumbled upon your blog yesterday while looking for information on the book thief – i teach english in western pennsylvania and we are looking to begin teaching the book to our sophomores next year – we have to provide our rationale for doing so, and i was wondering if you would mind if i linked to your review? it’s incredibly well-written and really sums up the feelings that many, many people have for this novel…

    thanks for your consideration…

  47. I came by here while looking for themes from The Book Thief. And I have to agree with you that I would also beg others to read it. It looks like a hassle, 550 pages long, so not many people would be interested. Plus it’s about Nazi Germany, something many people do not want to read about, but it is the most beautiful book you could imagine. Moving on, I read your comment on the book cover that you have and I was just motivated to tell you just how symbolic that the cover was to the story. Although its not a pretty one, it shows exactly what the story is about. The scene in that book was the one where Rudy was setting up the dominoes with his siblings while his parents were deciding his fate. The cover shows just how easy it is to destroy something that you worked so hard to build up. It is eerily symbolic and I think that if I came across this book with all the covers, I would have chosen the same one that I have now, which is the one you have. I do believe that the other ones are also very pretty to look at, but the one that truly captures the story and the meaning behind the story, is the one you have right now.

  48. I stumbled upon your blog today and felt the need to respond. I am currently reading The Book Thief (again) with a group of high school students. I do not think that you raved too much about the power of this book. Anyone who does, probably can not get past the literal meaning of the text. The writing is far deeper than that. The book has quickly become one of my favorites, as the writing is absolutely genius, the story is incredibly heart-wrenching, and the point is sadly undeniable. Markus Zusak takes a difficult subject (the Holocaust) with a witty narrator (Death), creates a endearing character (Liesel), and weaves a beautiful story…..It’s all about the words….

  49. Thank you Kelly. I am happy to report that this review gets the most hits of any other books on my blog (excluding the Twilight series). People are still talking about how wonderful this story is and what brilliant writing was done to pull this together.

  50. I only read a little, but did you know you got a few key facts wrong? For example, Leisel is 10 not 9, and Himmel is the street not the town (Molching) It’s brought up several times.

  51. Sorry not done. Did you really read that closely?

  52. Nice review! I just happened to come across this blog when looking up on the Book Thief, like so many others. Shows you just how genius this book is.

    I got the Book Thief as a present – I can’t remember who gave it to me – when I was nine. I read the prologue, found myself a bit curious and pleasantly surprised by the flag and colours, before putting it on a shelf for a while. Four years later I picked it up again, not expecting much and no one hyping it up for me. My mind was blown away. I am so proud to own a copy of that book (with neither of the covers shown in your review but a slightly wierd one of a girl. I don’t really like it) and really, I literally begged all my friends to read it! You’re right; it is worth every tear. But when I read it again I didn’t enjoy it as much because I didn’t want the devastating ending to come! I even tried to trick myself into believing that Rudy wasn’t dead, that Hans still played his accordian, and Rosa still swore.

    Your review was good, but I thought it was a bit lacking. For example, one of the main themes throughout the story is regret, guilt, and wrong decisions that were apparently so right. Like when Alex Steiner didn’t send Rudy to the school, but in the end it cost his life. Like when Hans was saved by Erik Vanderburg, who died in the battle Hans got to avoid. Like when Max leaves his family to survive, wishing he had the courage to stay and die with them. Like when Liesel didn’t kiss Rudy when he was alive, only to turn around and find him dead. It’s everywhere.

    Also, you went throught the whole review without mentioning Rudy! He is one of my favourite characters, and the one who has the most life in my opinion. He deserves a whole review just for himself! But anyway… that’s just my opinion… I still think you shoulda given him some credit!

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