The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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The Book Thief is a novel that features the events of the World War II, where the main character, Liesel, a nine year old girl, living in Germany, arrives at her foster parents home immediately after the death of her brother. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak shows how Death narrates Liesels experience, by illustrating the beauty and the destruction of life during the World War era.

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Liesel then experiences the terrible and horrific events of the Nazi system and finds it difficult to preserve her childhood innocence in the chaotic environment. This results to her being traumatized and she finds herself experiencing nightmares about her brothers death for many months. As all the chaos and harshness of the Nazi regime in Germany subsided, her adoptive parents later offered help to a Jewish man and hid him in their home, knowing very well they were putting the family in danger. She becomes friends with a boy, Rudy Steiner, living in the same neighborhood, who later falls in love with her. The other main characters include Hans Hubermann, Rosa Hubermann, Ruby Steiner, Max Vandenburg and Death.

Her foster dad, Hans, teaches her how to read and write without the knowledge of the Nazi party. Liesel discovers there is power in reading and writing and she later starts stealing books from the Nazi Party. She discovered a painful truth that her parents were persecuted for being communists, by the Nazi Regime party (Scott 15). The mayors wife, Ilsa Herman, sees her stealing books from the Nazi party as they try to burn them, and invites her to study in her own library. Liesel later starts writing her own short stories and shares with Max, the Jewish, the power confined in reading and writing. She later grows out of the sad and horrific memories, and discovers herself after what she had experienced during an air raid that killed Hans, his wife and Rudy.

After watching Max being forced to a concentrated camp, she loses hope on the written words he had written to her, and she finds herself in a situation where she loses the value of words. This can be said to be a radical fact in the novel. Ilsa Herman offers her a blank book and encourages her to write whatever she had in minds (Zusak 223). Leisel writes her lifes story, which constituted both beauty and tragedies that affected her life. In the last line of the novel, Liesel realizes that words can cause both comfort and violence, and she tries to make them right by fighting information that resulted to violence with written words that emanates from love and self-sacrifice. She quotes, I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right (Zusak 230). She then forms a new family and starts living a new life as book thief. The main reason for writing this essay is to understand the reason as to why death will always be amidst us no matter where we are, or who we are or what we are doing. The premise of the novel is at an imaginary German municipality of Molching, which is a community of Munich.

The literary technique of foreshadowing in this novel shows the three occasions Death crossed Liesels path. Death announces in the beginning that Rudy will die in two years; Death narrates how Rudy will rise from a beggar of bread to a donor of bread.

Death describes Liesel as a perpetual survivor, who will live through the war while all those around her die. Death also suggests that Liesel will be a great and famous writer someday (Michael 35). The irony in this novel is illustrated when we see Lieser learn how to read and write only when she is ten years old but later in the novel she becomes a very creative reader and writer (Michael 38).

Symbolism in this novel is portrayed in an act where giving bread is seen as an act of selflessness, representing the kindness many people are capable of. When Max is seen hiding in Hans basement, his friend brings him bread in order to restore his strength. This is an act of selflessness since we know very well that if they were caught, they would be severely punished and killed, hence this indicates how they put Maxs life first before their own.

Leisel and Rudy are seen giving bread to the Jewish prisoners who are forced into the camp. Recalling that Rudys family had no enough food for themselves, this act by Rudy is considered to be a symbol of sacrifice (Zusak 230). As death had hinted that Rudy will rise from being a beggar of bread to a donor of bread, it is a symbol showing his maturity from selfishness and greed to empathy for others. Markus uses these literary devices to ensure that the reader is focused on the real events where the characters meet their deaths, and emphasizes the ineffectiveness of the characters individual actions in the face of an intense war.

It is easy for humanity to conform to an evil leader especially when they feel they lack options due to their life threatening situations. An evil leader acts as a dictator and when questioned, he is capable of giving severe punishments or even murder, to prove he has power over everyone. The theme in this novel is mortality. Death being the narrator, he describes the presence of mortality in every characters life. Because it was an era of the World War II, the chances of genocide and death are very high in the novel. Death has the character of caring and not fearing. Death suggests that even death has a heart, which reaffirms there is a sense of caring when there is the notion of death and the act of dying (Zusak 232).

Death appears to everyone that surrounds the main character, Liesel. It shows that there is beauty and the destruction of life during the times people face tragedies. People experience events they never thought they would and hence they learn new ways of dealing with hardships. Despite Liesel experiencing the loss of those she deeply cared for, she grows stronger in mind and she becomes a prolific reader and writer, something she had thought of giving up on. Death compares beauty of life to its destruction. The act of being desperately hopeful is evident when Death hopes to to prove to (himself) that you and your human existence, are worth it (Zusak, 245). This literary device is a better way to show people that there is always a way for them to rise again with renewed courage.

The intentions of this novel is to make us believe that humans have an ability to grow, change and learn, and also to motivate people to fight against all injustices whenever they get a chance to do so. The tone in this literary device admits that a world with no fear and hatred that resulted to Holocaust, may be a long way in the future.

The novel illustrates how death can show cruelty to people who do not deserve any brutality in their life. It shows no mercy to Liesel, when it claims her brothers life, at such a tender age. She loses hope in life and the value of words but later she regains balance of her life and starts writing stories, making her a prolific reader and writer. She never gives up in life but rather gains courage and strength in order to overcome all her fears and frustrations resulted from the memories of those she loved. Death may bring about destructions in ones life, especially if it claims everyone they interact with, and make them lose hope with life, but it can make a person twice as strong in character and mentally. With the experiences Lieser has to go through, as young as she was, death has no mercy and does not care about who it affects or even how old they are. Death is selfish and should not be considered as a beauty in this life. If people had the power to overcome death, it surely would not exist in our midst.


Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. Random House Childrens Books. (2011) 223-245.

Michael, L. Winners and Honor Books American Library Association. Retrieved. (2013). 33-40.

Scott, R. The Book Thief Begins Shooting in Germany The Hollywood Reporter. (2012). 12-25.

Drgardner. The Book Thief (2013) (2013). IMDbMolly, D. The Book Thief movie adaptation gets a director Christian Science Monitor. Retrived. (2012). 10-23

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