80 pages 2 hours read

Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2005

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The Pointlessness of Wartime Deaths

In a book narrated by Death, one might expect that the concept of death represents a central theme. However, only a certain type of death achieves prominence in The Book Thief. It is significant that the story follows Liesel from the age of 9 to 14. She is growing up during the Second World War years—1939 through 1943. During that time, she repeatedly witnesses the deaths of her family and friends, and none of them die naturally. The death of her brother from illness and the disappearance of her mother can both be indirectly attributed to the Nazi persecution of her communist father.

Hitler’s regime is implicitly responsible for most of the stupidly random deaths that occur throughout the book. A soldier who switches seats in a van with Hans is thrown from the vehicle and suffers a broken neck. An American pilot accidentally crashes his plane into the Amper River and dies. Everyone living on Himmel Street is killed in an aerial bombing that was an offshoot of an attack meant for another target. Alex Steiner’s decision to keep his son at home accidentally gets Rudy killed.

The theme of wartime deaths also reaches back in time to World War I, when Max’s father saves Hans from dying on a battlefield by a stray comment about his penmanship.