The Book Thief (2005), by award-winning Markus Zusak, takes the reader into Nazi Germany in the year 1939. It follows Liesel Meminger, a young girl whose accordian-playing foster-father teaches her to read. She steals books and shares them with others, her neighbors and the Jewish man who is hidden in her basement, eventually writing about her life outside of Munich in treacherous times. Narrated by Death, this lengthy tale hovers between young adult and adult fiction.
Janet Maslin drew these conclusions in her New York Times book review:
“At its most effective, the book’s tone can be terrifyingly matter of fact. ‘For the book thief, everything was going nicely,’ Death observes, as the extermination camps flourish in the summer of 1942. ‘For me, the sky was the color of Jews.’
It’s possible to be overwhelmed and impressed by such moments in Mr. Zusak’s novel. It’s also possible to wish there were more of them, that their impact were sharper, and that the book were less fussy, more certain of its own strength.
To be sure, ‘The Book Thief’ attempts and achieves great final moments of tear-jerking sentiment. And Liesel is a fine heroine, a memorably strong and dauntless girl. But for every startlingly rebellious episode — Rudy’s Führer-baiting impersonation of the black American athlete Jesse Owens, the building of an indoor snowman for a Jew in hiding, the creation of books and drawings that frame Liesel and Max’s experiences as life-affirming fairy tales — there are moments that are slack.
‘The Book Thief’ will be appreciated for Mr. Zusak’s audacity, also on display in his earlier ‘I Am the Messenger.’ It will be widely read and admired because it tells a story in which books become treasures. And because there’s no arguing with a sentiment like that.”
The film version of The Book Thief was released last year.