The Book Page Where Hope Lies - The Book Thief Book Review | Teen Ink

The Book Page Where Hope Lies - The Book Thief Book Review

September 7, 2023
By MichaelLyu SILVER, Princeton, New Jersey
MichaelLyu SILVER, Princeton, New Jersey
7 articles 0 photos 0 comments

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a historical novel set in Nazi Germany during World War II. The story revolves around Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is sent with her brother to live with foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, because Liesel’s father is a communist being persecuted by the Nazis, and they had to start a new life in a new town, Molching. On their way to Molching, Liesel’s brother, breathed his last on the train. This incident leaves a horrible vision for Liesel and haunts her every night. At her brother's funeral, Liesel's life takes a dramatic turn when she steals her first book, "The Grave Digger's Handbook." Illiterate at the time but seeking to snatch power in a curious world of letters, Liesel asked her foster father Hans to teach her to read. Naturally, their bond strengthens through the power of words.

As Liesel becomes more engrossed in literature, she begins stealing more books, even sharing them with a Jewish fist-fighter named Max Vandenburg, whom the Hubermanns hide in their basement. Through Liesel’s friendship with Max, she discovers that words can construct a world of imagination, a realm of stories beyond reality. Max creates books for Liesel as gifts by painting over the pages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, transforming the hateful words of Hitler into something intended to spread joy, love, and growth. As Liesel grew fascinated with books, her reading capability encouraged other people. People were panicked and terrified when they gathered in the air defense basement.  Liesel, trying to soothe herself, starts reading her books out loud. The magical charm of words creates a miracle, people are scared no more. Since then, Liesel has played the role of an angel, driving away fear by the love engendered in words. As the novel climaxes, Max the Jew boxer is caught and paraded through town. Liesel tears the book pages because she blames words for Max’s suffering. But after opening her mind to the mayoress who allows her to steal books from, she feels an inner urge to pen her story into a book, as Max did. The creative endeavor of writing her own book ultimately saves her from the devastating bombings that killed nearly all that mattered to her. The tragedy becomes the final push that transforms her into a courageous woman armed with words and stories.  

Zusak's masterful character development breathes life into each of his creations. Liesel, the book thief, immediately captivates readers with her tenacity and insatiable hunger for words. Hans Hubermann, her foster father, is a compassionate and kind-hearted man who nurtures Liesel's love for reading and provides a haven of warmth in the cruel world. Rosa Hubermann, the foster mother, has a heart of gold that lies under her gruff exterior. The enigmatic Max Vandenburg, a Jewish refugee hidden in the Hubermanns' basement, offers a unique perspective on survival and the power of stories to provide solace even in the darkest times. Rudy Steiner, Liesel's best friend, is a source of constant support and a reminder that friendship and small acts of defiance can flourish even in adversity. These endearing characters remind readers that even in the coldest and darkest times, lights and warmth still persist, offering solace and hope.

Another theme that Markus Zusak consistently brings up is loss and grief. The novel's unique stylistic choice of Death as the narrator, with its somber yet empathetic tone, adds a layer of complexity and introspection to the storytelling. As an omnipresent observer, death invites readers to consider the significance of life, death, and the choices we make. In his adequately humorous but mostly grave tone, readers experience the perishes of life and cruelty of human beings. Liesel's losses—from her brother to the broader casualties of war—underscore that one should never blame himself for another’s death. Death is inevitable, like the unpredicted air raid that took everyone’s life. Liesel has difficulty accepting her brother’s death and walking out from the nightmare, but it eventually shapes her into a stronger figure.

Markus Zusak's The Book Thief is a literary masterpiece that doesn't merely offer a story but an experience that lingers long after the final page is turned. It serves as a reminder that even in the darkest of times, the human spirit can endure, and the written word can ignite flames of courage and resistance, reminding us that amid chaos and cruelty, acts of kindness and love have the power to shape lives and leave an eternal mark on history.

The author's comments:

Markus Zusak's historical novel The Book Thief that tells a moving story about a girl who finds hope in the strength of books.

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