The Book Thief
Historical Fiction Multi-Genre Project By: Sarah Potvin
The Book Thief By: Markus Zusak
Annotated Book Review
In the historical fiction novel The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, young Liesel Meminger must dodge the watching eyes as she grabs books and keep secrets that could end her family’s life if they are discovered in order to survive Germany in the early 1940’s. Liesel was just an ordinary German girl until the night on the train when she first saw Death. This attention grabbing book is a real page- turner that keeps the audience engaged and on the edge of their seat.
In The Book Thief, the story of Liesel Meminger begins on a train when she looks Death in the face for the first time. She is haunted by that day for the next several years. That was the first day she stole a book. No one saw her bend down and snatch the small black object form the snow. She didn’t know how to read the book that was now in her possession, but she kept it close to her since it was the last time she saw her mother and brother after she was dropped off in the foster care of Hans and Rosa Hubermann. They raised her like their own, Papa reading her the small black book and many more to come and slowly teaching her to read and write while Mama taught her a thing or two about respect and the durability of wooden spoons. Everything was going great in Liesel’s little world, even her best friend, Rudy, couldn’t spoil her days when he repeatedly asked for kisses.
Liesel’s world was turned upside down again when a Jewish man, Max, comes to stay in her family’s basement. She is forced to keep the biggest secret of her life from everyone, even Rudy. She continues to learn to read and write and becomes increasingly better as she becomes friendlier with the Jew. Her business of stealing continues too. After she gets one from the snow that first day, she collects one from Hitler’s fire, one leads Max to her house, several come from the mayor’s house, and multiple come from the Jew in the basement. She loves them, the small but fulfilling objects that she cherishes dearly. Liesel decides to write her own in a small journal and writing down her own story saves her life when World War II comes close to her small home at 33 Himmel Street in 1943.
The Book Thief is a stirring novel that allows the readers to get engrossed in the story and not want to put it down. The author really made the readers become part of the story along with the characters. The inferencing and foreshadowing is amazing and it really captivated me and drew me in. The meaning of the book is quite deep. The theme is the power of words and their ability to transform and change people, events, friendships, and even hatred. Markus Zusak conveys the theme of words creating friendships that overpower words of hate through Liesel’s love and urge to read and write, the relationship between Liesel and Max, the stealing of the books, and the relationship with Liesel and her new foster parents even after she lost her brother and her mother. The Book Thief has a theme of how words can help or hurt, how they can make or break someone, and how they can bond or disassemble someone or something. Words help Liesel in many expected and unexpected ways in the book and they allow her to open up again even after what happened in her past and what is going to happen in her future on 33 Himmel Street.
The novel, The Book Thief, is well written and quickly captures the reader’s attention. There are many plot twists and a great deal of tension that makes the story dramatic and entertaining. The author, Markus Zusak, uses metaphors often in the book to convey the real meaning of something that is going on or some character in the book. This book is incredible and the way it is written is amazing for it conveys a meaning that is amazing and spectacular for the readers to experience. The book stirs up emotions and reactions that make it feel as if you are actually there in the story with the characters. The book is narrated by Death, an interesting choice since you see everything from third person as Death tells Liesel’s story from the book she wrote about her life. The readers can still clearly see the emotion and troubled feelings of the characters even though none of the characters in Liesel’s story are actually telling the story. Markus Zusak paints a very clear picture of exactly what is going on in the story and what people and things look like. He also clearly develops several characters including Liesel, Papa (Hans), and Max. He gives background for each of the characters that allows the reader to really understand and come to know them while still leaving some mystery. The author includes several interruptions of the story that enhance the point that is being made or the action that is happening including Death talking to the reader like an old friend, various definitions of words, important conversations, background on a character or the event that is taking place, or foreshadowing snippets to help the reader infer what is going to happen later in the book. The historical aspects of the book are neatly embedded in the story and the author has added just the right amount of historical details that allow the reader to be taken back to that time. Overall, the book is well written with incredible detail and a magnificent plot with just the perfect amount of twists. You know it is a good book when you can read a chapter or two again and feel the same way emotionally every time you read it.
Although I did enjoy The Book Thief, there are a few things that I disliked about the book. Occasionally it is difficult to understand and comprehend exactly what is going on since the book jumps around quite a bit, but the author generally does a good job of distinguishing the various events going on. The book also can be a little wordy which contributes to difficulty understanding the story. The other thing I don’t really like about The Book Thief is that the narrator spoils the ending. He mentions the ending in several places so it is not a surprise. I like it when the author adds details in the book that allow to foreshadow some of the book, but the author, in my opinion, adds too many details along with the narrator spoiling the ending for the reader. I was annoyed that I knew the ending of the book before it even took place. The book is so well written and beautifully constructed that even the spoiled ending couldn’t make me disfavor the book.
In closing, The Book Thief is an amazing book that conveys a deep meaning about words and their power and that I believe everyone should read at least once in their lifetime. I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of twelve since it is a more complex text for younger children. This book is perfect for anyone since it is a mix of mystery, romance, friendship, struggle for life, and action. The book shows people what it was like in Nazi Germany for a young child. It can make you jump with joy, or weep tears of sadness, sigh with relief, or get chill bumps on your arms. I would give this book five out of five stars since it is such a superb novel and I cannot wait to read other books such as I am the Messenger.
Analysis of Historical Accuracy
The Book Thief is a historical fiction novel meaning that is has some true historical elements, but the characters, some places, and some events did not actually happen. Based on the research conducted, The Book Thief is pretty historically accurate. The majority of historical things mentioned like Munich, Stuttgart, Hitler, Mein Kampf, saying heil Hitler, the Nuremberg Laws, and the NSDAP (Nazi Party) are historically accurate, but they aren’t the main events, things, or settings in the story. The main setting in the novel, 33 Himmel Street and Molching, do not actually exist in Germany. The author, Markus Zusak, made them up. He also made up the bombing of Himmel Street since the street itself was fictitious. The author did not make up the fact of small and seemly random towns in Germany and several other countries involved in the war were bombed and there were many civilian causalities. He did mention a lot of historical details, but they enhanced the novel and did not make it sound too researched. There were just enough details to convey the historical aspects of the novel. The book didn’t have any glaring inaccuracies; everything that happened in the book would/ could have happened in real life during that time period. The historical details in The Book Thief were very valuable and contributed to the overall setting of the novel.
Short Informative Piece
“Liesel slowed to a staggering walk and concentrated up ahead.
Where’s Frau Diller’s? she thought. Where’s-
She wandered a short while longer until the man who found her took her and kept talking. “You’re just in shock, my girl. It’s just shock; you’re going to be fine.”
“What’s happened?” Liesel asked. “Is this still Himmel Street?”
“Yes.” The man had disappointed eyes. What had he seen these past few years? “This is Himmel. You got bombed, my girl. Es tut mir leid, Schatzi. I’m sorry, darling."
The girl’s mouth wandered on, even if her body was now still. She had forgotten her previous wails for Hans Hubermann. That was years ago- a bombing will do that. She said, “We have to get my papa, my mama. We have to get Max out of the basement. If he’s not there, he’s in the hallway, looking out the window. He does that sometimes if there’s a raid- he doesn’t get to look out much at the sky, you see. I have to tell him how the weather looks now. He’ll never believe me…”
Her body buckled at that movement and the LSE man caught her and sat her down. “We’ll move her in a minute,” he told his sergeant. The book thief looked at what was heavy and hurting in her hand.
Her fingers were bleeding, just like they had on her arrival.”
- The Book Thief (pages 533-534)
In the novel, The Book Thief, one of the important aspects of the book was the air raids at the end of the book which claimed the lives of everything she had grown to love. The people could get protected from air raids in the book, and they did survive all but the last one in the story. Also, Papa gets the job of being a member of the LSE, meaning he has to go around after a town has been bombed and put out fires, collect dead bodies, etc. Rosa and Liesel are really worried about Papa when he has this job since it is very dangerous and there is a fairly high risk of death. Since, such major events are linked to the air raids, more research was conducted on air raids by the British and Americans in Germany.
During World War II, one of the strategies of war was bombing industrial cities in order to hinder the economy of the enemy. The Royal Air Force or the RAF was the British air force. At the beginning of the war against Germany, the RAF felt that is was unjust and uncivil to purposely attack civilian areas and private property in the enemy country. This belief quickly changed when the Luftwaffe night-bombers (Germany's Nazi air force) accidentally and against orders bombed London in August 1940. By February 1942, RAF began to exclusively focus its attacks on civilian areas in an attempt to break enemy moral. The British thought that the bombing of civilians was essential in order for Britain to win the war. The RAF destroyed cities and houses by dispatching about 1000 aircraft per night. Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris used the Cologne raid in May 1942 as an example of how much could be destroyed in a single night. That night, 1046 aircraft and over 2000 tons of bombs were used, destroying about 13,000 homes. Once the US joined the war, the US Army Air Force (USAAF) flew from British bases and believed strongly in precision daylight bombing. They collaborated with the British to create an “around the clock” system of the RAF at night and the USAAF during the day. There were problems with raids during the night and in the early morning that could lead to losses of lives and aircraft. In the Schweinfurt raid, there were 77 B-17 bombers lost which was about a fourth of the attacking force. The method of long- ranged raids was abandoned until 1944 when long range fighter escorts were available.
There were a few bombings that were quite successful in eyes of the British and US. The Dambusters raids in May 1943 against the dams in the Ruhr Valley. This raid did little economic damage, but it damaged the public morale. In January 1944, the RAF attacked Berlin, an important German city. Almost a year later, on December 11, 1944, Frankfurt, Hanau, and Giesson were destroyed by approximately 1600 American planes. The British and American forces continued to work together and pulled off a major attack on Hamburg. In Operation Gomorrah in June 1943, bombers from America and Britain bombed Hamburg for several days and nights repeatedly until about half of the city was flattened and about 40,000 were killed. In January 1945, the US used about 40,000 tons of bombs on Berlin, Cologne, and Hamm while the RAF bombed Bochum, Munich, and Stuttgart. These bombing mentioned above are just a sample from the number of air raids that actually took place during World War II in Germany.
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