A Review of The New York Times Bestseller: Based On the Horrors of Nazi Germany on the Youth

Monday, March 30

By Jasmine Perez

As Death recites the beloved story of the book thief, I am thrown into a world filled with darkness and hate surrounded by the cries of Jews begging the Nazis for their lives. Somehow, as Death is encompassed by the awful demise in Nazi Germany, he finds light in a girl, a girl that couldn’t let go of her innocence, searching for it in the books she steals. Markus Zusak, the author of the New York Times #1 Bestseller, The Book Thief, excels in displaying the setting of Nazi Germany while also focusing on its victims and their lives affected by it in his novel. Zusak uses his knowledge of Nazi Germany to vividly provide a description of what the citizens were experiencing, and jaw-dropping language to do such. The story is beautifully told allowing its readers to feel the gut-wrenching horrors of a Jew’s life in Nazi Germany as well as the liveliness of a girl who kept on searching for hope. 

Unlike other novels written about the despair in the years of the Holocaust, The Book Thief, offers a different perspective, one that was around quite often during these times; Death. The almighty Death narrates the story of a girl, Liesel Meminger, and although Death only “saw the book thief three times,” (Zusak, Page 5) he sees the death that surrounds her and her home. Instead of the Grim Reaper, Zusak’s character Death is filled with sympathy for his victims—eventually falling in love with their life that once was adding a heartfelt narrative to the novel. He observes those in the novel in only a way that Death could; from above. In addition to Death’s love for humanity, he longs for the happy endings, even one for Liesel and her family. Death’s intriguing curiosity is focused on Liesel’s resilience through the pain in her life. Liesel still managed to portray the importance of her humanity like keeping a promise or creating friendships. The concept of a softer Death character adds to the emotional upbringing in the novel. It’s not just telling you the story of the book thief, but he’s narrating it from the outside; Death knows all and gives the audience background information that is needed to properly understand the sentiment behind Nazi Germany. Markus Zusak, in creating the narrator, was looking for something new; he seeks to make a newer perspective in different eyes and accomplished such with Death as the narrator of such a beautiful, yet bloodcurdling story.  

The New York Times #1 Bestseller's author attempts to add depth and realness to the story of Liesel Meminger while reciting memories of Nazi Germany that was once recorded by his relatives. In writing this novel, Zusak needed experience to tie the novel together through recalling events that could only be remembered by those that once endured the pain that came with such a dreadful time. Although collecting experiences from victims in Nazi Germany can increase the credibility of the details in the story, it does create a bias opinion about the home life involved with a Jewish family and its enemies. Additionally, this leads to the readers getting caught up with the details rather than simply listening to such a powerful story filled with humanity. Zusak’s protagonist, Liesel Meminger is unforgettable and can be remembered as a character reminiscent of Anne Frank. In this relation, the readers can make the obvious connection of two stories written to highlight the life of a young girl in Nazi Germany. Because of the association between Frank and Meminger, Zusak’s novel loses its sense of originality despite the evident differences between Anne Frank’s diary and Markus Zusak’s alluring novel. The Book Thief’s realness of the tale is highlighted by the summoning of the undeniable hatred in Nazi Germany and the innocence of a young girl experiencing such dreaded events with tenderness and warmth; the same tenderness and warmth that a reader’s own daughter inhabits which creates the bridge between the reader’s emotions and the author’s recollection of events.  

Some may argue that such a topic with so much despair scattered throughout would not be appropriate for the younger ages. Contrary to what young adults prefer, the book takes a couple chapters to really get to the “page turner” parts of the story. This can be difficult for the reader to display probable interest in the plot. Despite the intended audience, adults have fallen in love with the book as well. It creates a moral for everyone to endure and enjoy, and possibly this novel was written for adults and instead, classified as a young adult novel. Markus Zusak includes the right amount of everything from real-life experiences to a simple story of a young girl with sticky fingers in which offers us a believable, hard-won hope. Hope is found in all generations which again, helps in creating that bond between its readers and the novel itself.  Young readers need alternatives to ideological rigidity, and such investigations of how stories matter and so does everyone else in the world bringing this novel to be put into the hands and hearts of everyone reading.  

In all, the author of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak excels in creating a novel that invests in the feelings of not only its intended audience, young adults, but also the adults reading it. The use of real-life based experiences, beautiful language, and narrative establishes the 1939 storytelling of such a powerful story. Zusak states, “...when I brought the ideas together, it seemed to work, especially when I thought about the importance of words in that time, and what they were able to make people believe and do.” (Zusak, Author’s note in The Book Thief) With Zusak’s original thought, he morphed the story of Nazi Germany to be so beautifully told in the eyes of a young girl that couldn’t stop the words from fascinating her just as the author uses his to fascinate his readers.

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