A story narrated by Death: A review of ‘The Book Thief’

“I am haunted by humans.”

Who would’ve thought that a book narrated by Death would be so good? This book was so cleverly written – I’ve never read anything quite like it. Despite being a period of history which many writers have written about, I found The Book Thief, to be truly unique. The book is set in Germany, in the fictional city of Molching, and follows an orphaned girl, Liesel, who steals books and learns to read whilst helping her new parents hide Max, a Jew, in the basement of their house.

Choosing to have Death narrate the story was an ingenious decision by the author, Markus Zusak. Characterising Death as a sentimental and compassionate being made me feel a sense of detachment from the characters and the story (in a good way) and made me contemplate humanity and human nature. The way Death narrates the story is somewhat poetic and I both loved and hated how utterly cruel the foreshadowing was – the part where Rudy jumps into the river to retrieve Liesel’s book got me the most – “Rudy didn’t deserve to die the way he did.” Death’s way of narrating the story just made me dread that ending more and more.

As a side note, I just wanted to say how much I loved where this book was set – Germany, in the fictional city of Molching, more specifically Himmel Street. I feel like sometimes it’s easy to forget that both sides bleed during a war and it was great to see Zusak offering us the ‘other side’ of World War II and how it was just as destructive on their side too. And to have it narrated by Death made this perspective even more insightful and unique.

Liesel and Rudy were two of my favourite characters and I really loved their innocent and childish relationship. Despite the fact that there’s a war raging on in the background, Liesel and Rudy still act like typical children – Liesel loves books and is determined to learn to read and write; Rudy loves soccer and running, inspired by Jesse Owens. When his father is drafted into the army, I liked the slight change Zusak made to his character – he becomes far more hot-tempered and angry as he comes to realise the political situation of his country. However, I loved how he remains loyal and kind to Liesel and his innocent feelings of love towards her are sweet.

If you’ve watched the film and think you know what I’m on about, you’re wrong. The ending to the book is so much more raw

Though Liesel’s story somewhat takes the forefront of this book, I loved how there is something more serious and important happening in the background – Max’s story. Max is a Jew who has left his family to save himself from the Nazis. Seeking shelter at the Hubermanns’ house (Liesel’s new home) he feels extremely guilty about putting such a burden on the family – it was sad seeing him feel so ashamed when all he wanted to do was stay alive. Staying in their basement, Max’s imagination is truly incredible – the illustrations included in the book, though somewhat comedic, show how much of a fighter he is in the face of Hitler’s unjust rule. Though he is strong-willed and determined to stay alive, I loved the soft-side to his character when he’s talking to Liesel – it just shows how human he is.

Going back to the narration of the story, the theme of Death was written in a way that I have never read before. Death does not have a preference whether people live or die, it is the aftermath that he deals with. He explains how he does not like his job and instead sees it as something that just needs to be done. He also explains how he is not the cause of people’s deaths; it is humans who bring about their own end. I never thought I’d ever sympathise with a narrator like this, but I did. As an immortal character, Death really highlights how living can be far worse than dying. The moral of this story was far more hard-hitting than I thought it would be.

Though it took me quite a while to get there, that ending will haunt me forever. Though Death practically tells his readers what is going to happen to the characters, it was still just as shocking and devastating to read about. If you’ve watched the film and think you know what I’m on about, you’re wrong. The ending to the book is so much more raw and harsh – having that many characters snatched away from you in such an unjust and underserving way was horrible. It didn’t matter that they were from Germany and were technically our ‘enemy’, they are humans who did not deserve that end.

Outstanding. A masterpiece. Exceptional. Unique. There are many other words I could use to describe this book but that would make this review too long. This is definitely a book that you should read at least once in your life, even though you’ll never fully recover from that ending.


Comments (2)

  • You’ve just put into words everything that I love about this novel! And it’s true, you’ll never recover from that ending.

  • This book is heartbreaking and I totally agree with you that this is an absolute masterpiece. And, you are right that, even though some people have watched the film, reading the book is an entirely different experience! 🙂

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