By Markus Zusak
From the back cover
It is 1939, Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snot. It is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But here are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
This is a very intense, emotionally-draining book. Parents should be aware that the whole story is narrated by the Angel of Death and the angel is given human-like characteristics. Death is portrayed as miserable for having to take people’s souls away, and that he seemingly hates his job. He states once that a boy died in a way he didn’t deserve to die. At another occasion, Death starts questioning who deserves to die and why do people deserve to die? It is impermissible for humans to question Allah’s will and angels NEVER question Allah’s orders. Allah is always fair and what He decrees is always in the best of our interest. Readers should always have this belief and not allow such writings sway them from the truth.
There’s affection between a girl and a boy from the lead characters. The boy always asks the girl for a kiss.
The book is full of violence. The setting is Germany, Munich during the years of World War II. Aside from some detailed descriptions of war injuries, a number of deaths of main characters occur at the end of the book.
Many swear words in German are used. In English, the words a$$hole, bastard, slut, sh!t, a$$ scratcher, and whore are used multiple times.
- A man teaches a pre-teen how to roll cigarettes and she finds pleasure in rolling them for him. She doesn’t smoke them though but the man does.
- Liesel’s Papa allows her to drink champagne at 13 years of age – the narrator (the Death Angel) states “she enjoyed the taste of a glorious broken rule. It felt great. The bubbles ate her tongue. They prickled her stomach. Even as they walked to the next job, she could feel the warmth of pins and needles inside her”. This line just left me wondering if this description might seem too attractive for a young adult’s curiosity to grow into wanting to try a taste of champagne? Just a thought that I felt obligated to state.
- Two men spend a night drinking at a bar after being summoned into military duty during the war. They return to their respective homes drunk.
- Cigarettes are portrayed as valuables and are often exchanged between adults.
Degradation of Family/Islamic Values
- The narrator, Death, states that “even Death has a heart” when describing the death of a young boy.
- Death is portrayed to hate his God-given duty of taking lives.
- Death once states that “God doesn’t answer me. It’s not just you He doesn’t answer to”.
- Death questions who deserves to die and why do people deserve to die. He states that a little boy didn’t deserve to die.
- Whenever a character is surprised or scared they blurt out “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”
- A boy keeps asking a girl for a kiss throughout the book. He is said to have imagined what kissing this girl would taste like. She never allows him to kiss her but when he dies in the end she kisses him on the lips.
- There is much stealing throughout the book. Liesel steals books on several occasions and the kids steal out of necessity and pleasure sometimes.
- The adoptive father is said to have sold cigarettes in order to buy a Christmas present for Liesel.
- Liesel’s adoptive mother is miserable most of the time and curses at her husband continuously.
- Two characters set a trap to steal food that was meant for priests.
- Liesel once describes the weather as “a sun that had broken through like God sitting down after he’d eaten too much for his dinner”. This statement left me puzzled…
- When one of the Hitler Youth children was asked about Hitler’s birthday he is said to have deliberately answered with the birth of Christ (Easter).
The Book Thief is narrated by Death during the Second World War. It is dark, gloomy and depressing.
The concept of death is completely altered from our Islamic form. Readers should maintain their full Islamic understanding of Death while reading this book. It insinuates that Death struggles to take people’s lives away and sometimes he tries and couldn’t after a struggle. It portrays the Angel of Death as having a will that is against the predestination of Allah Subhanah wa Ta’ala. In Islam, we know that Allah orders the angel of death to take a soul out and once Allah’s command has been made a person’s life is neither prolonged more shortened even by a fraction of a second.