The only concern I have about reviewing this book is that I won’t do it any justice. Nobody could. What I can say, though, is that “The Book Thief” is more than a bound collection of words on paper, it’s an experience. The characters consume you and will break your heart.
I suppose I can be a bit of a crier. Sure, I like to think I’m tough, but I’m not. And I certainly wasn’t while reading Zusak’s work. The story is set during the Holocaust, and there’s some debate as to whether this is a twist that shouldn’t be revealed, but the narrator is not who you would expect.
The writing is spectacular, of course, and character development is precise and haunting, but the beauty of the book is in its narrator. You instantly trust him, and although he is a neutral commentator throughout the book, you grow to love him and feel for him during what he occasionally describes as one of his busiest periods in history. The other character of note (although I believe they all are developed equally well, she just happens to be the heroine) is Liesel.
In one act of thievery, Liesel Meminger changes the path of her life and that of the unseen narrator’s who takes an interest in the girl. The stolen item is a book, “The Grave Digger’s Handbook,” found near her brother’s graveside. With the help of her foster father, she uses the manual to learn to read. With book burnings commonplace in Nazi Germany, she has to risk her life at times in order to fuel her desire to learn.
Through Liesel, the reader experiences life and the good and bad it has to offer. Through our narrator, the reader experiences death and the good and bad it has to offer. And – most importantly – between our heroine and storyteller, the reader experiences something that we all look for in a book, a collection of characters — some who are friends, some who are not — who you will remember for a lifetime and pull from your bookshelf again and again.