Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Off the Shelf

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is about a young girl known as Liesel Meminger who grows up in Germany amidst World War II who lives with her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Throughout the story, Liesel steals various pieces of literature, even though she is oblivious to what the words and paragraphs within them mean and how to read them. At first, she doesn’t even know how to comprehend the words and letters within the books, but she knows that the books themselves hold significant values and ideas. Hans notices and teaches her how to make sense of the letters, in which Liesel slowly progresses in her journey to become a more literate person. Eventually, Liesel realizes that Hans and Rosa are secretly in defiance with the Nazi regime by hiding a Jewish boy known as Max in their basement. 

     Their anti-Facism sentiments remain a secret until Hans decides to help a Jewish prisoner who is struggling to keep up with the group as they are being marched to a concentration camp. In response, the soldiers swiftly take action to whip both Hans and the prisoner that Hans attempted to aid. Hans displays concern that this incident will draw suspicion and distrust towards his family and that Max is no longer safe in their basement, as they decide to send him away. After Max leaves, Liesel is given a book Max made for her called ‘The Word Shaker,’ which he wrote about their friendship, as it symbolized his promise that someday, they will be reunited. Unfortunately, Max was unable to escape the Nazis and their reign of terror, as Liesel sees him being marched through town on his way to the concentration camp. As the war continues, Liesel is given a blank notebook to write her life experiences, in which she names her story ‘The Book Thief.’

     There are several prominent themes in The Book Thief, including the power of words, the disparity between the kindness and cruelty of humans, and duality. Books are a significant part of this story, signifying that words hold great value. In the book that Max wrote for Liesel, ‘The Word Shaker,’ he suggests that words are the most powerful force on Earth. To Liesel, words also offer comfort and act as a method of escapism from her bleak reality. They’re a place of refuge for her while the Nazis control her world, even using these books to calm her neighbors by reading to them during bomb raids.

The Book Thief strongly demonstrates that words hold the power to spread ideas, and it suggests that same power can be dangerous. Max suggests this notion in the book he leaves for Liesel when he says that Hitler used words to conquer the world, and that something as intangible as words can have drastic real-life consequences. The book burning Liesel witnesses also raises this idea, as the Nazis burned books to keep people insensible regarding certain ideas, as those conceptions could spread like an infection across German society. The Nazis clearly feared those ideas as they could undermine the Nazi ideology and therefore the party’s control over all of Germany.