Friday, September 6, 2013



Based on its title, you might think that The Book Thief is a spy thriller or a Holmes-style detective story.  But really, this is the emotional story of a young girl living in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.  Yep, a ten-year-old girl is the title's thief.

The Book Thief was first published in Australia in 2005 and in the US in 2006. It's Australian author Markus Zusak's fifth novel, and it emerged on the scene when Zusak was only thirty years old. Winning a slew of awards, mostly in the Young Adult category, and selling at least a million copies,The Book Thief is monumentally increasing this young author's fame.

Liesel Meminger, a young German girl growing up in Nazi Germany, is the star of the show. She's also the chief book thief in the novel, which is narrated by Death. When Liesel's foster parents decide to give refuge to a young Jewish man hiding from the Nazi regime, the characters grow and change in horrible and beautiful ways.

Zusak took over three years to complete the piece and even went to Munich, Germany to research some of the finer points. He tackles all sorts of dicey issues concerning one of the most difficult topics ever – the Holocaust. This is the name for the large scale persecution and murder of some six million Jews along with other people considered "undesirable" by the Nazis.

Zusak's parents grew up in Germany during World War II and shared their stories of these times with Zusak. According to a review in the Guardian:

Zusak […] has said that writing the book was inspired by two real-life events related to him by his German parents: the bombing of Munich, and a teenage boy offering bread to an emaciated Jew being marched through the streets, ending with both boy and Jewish prisoner being whipped by a soldier. (source)

You'll see definite echoes of the whipping incident in several crucial points in the novel, and you can read more details about the story Zusak heard here. In interviews, Zusak discusses an additional inspiration for the novel – tales of a real book thief in Zusak's hometown of Sydney, Australia (source).

At times hilarious (believe it or not), at times heartbreaking, The Book Thief is rich and creative. It's a heartfelt reminder of the power of words – they can destroy or heal, depending on how we use them.

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