What’s on the bookshelf: The Book Thief

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve entered a bookstore and scanned the spines on the shelf for something new to read. Several times, I remember pulling “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak off the shelf, reading its description and putting it back. The description didn’t grab me, so I moved on.

Several years later, a copy of “The Book Thief” passed under my nose at the office, with a comment from a coworker that it was a good book. Since it was one I had passed on several times, I sighed, said I’d read it, and the Thief traveled home with me. …

If a book doesn’t grab me from the start, I will rarely finish it, much less get past the first few chapters. What grabbed me, however, was the fresh perspective of the novel. The story is told from Death’s point of view, and given that the novel is set in Nazi Germany and during World War II, it is a fitting perspective. It allows the novel to show the darkness surrounding the Book Thief, a girl named Liesel, as well as tell her story and her journey.

The second thing that grabbed me and made me smile was the use of German throughout the novel. I speak German and went to school in southern Germany, not far from Stuttgart. Author Zusak often used the German and translated it later, but knowing the language meant I understood the wittier side of Death before someone who didn’t know the language. I really enjoyed its use, because it also helped set the novel both in tone and location.

However, what really sets this novel apart — and has earned it a permanent spot in my book collection — is its theme. The power of words is dominate: With the use of German, with Liesel learning to read, with the Nazi Party’s fascination with book burning and essentially destroying all ideas contrary to its doctrine. It serves as a reminder of how important it is to have a voice and to speak that voice even if it is contrary or not mainstream. It also serves as a reminder that our words drive action and the wrong words can destroy people, while the right words can lift people up and make them strong.

It’s a lesson we all need reminding of periodically and one we’d do well not to forget.

Check it out: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak