Growing Up (with books) in Nazi Germany: The Book Thief

The stars set fire to my eyes…

Usually I avoid reading books set in Nazi Germany because in the guise of Nazi bashing there is a blanket basterdization of ordinary Germans – people caught on the wrong foot in the march of history.

It was with this trepidation that I started The Book Thief. Had heard a lot about it – it being hailed as a modern classic – and it had even featured on my wishlist. The beginning was strange. The narrative voice was stranger. And it took me some time to gain entry into the book. Perhaps, it was some 100 pages down the book that I warmed up to it. From then on, however, it was a terrific ride – often heartrending and leaving me teary eyed.

The book – a bildungsroman – tells the story of a young German girl Liesel Meminger, the eponymous thief of the title and her life in the house of her foster parents the Hubermanns at Himmel Street – one of the poorer sections of the town of Molching, a suburb of Munich.

Growing up in Nazi Germany means that everything is secondary to the Party. One cannot even have the freedom to have different thoughts! How can anyone grow in such suffocating circumstances? But Liesel does, along with her close friend Rudy Steiner and the other kids of the street. Life is certainly not a bed of roses but it has laughter and sharing and happiness and thievery. Mostly of books but at times of food items.

Politics enters the household in the form of a dispute between the father and the son and the appearance of a Jew – Max Vandenburg- whom the family hides. It is a nightmarish existence for the young man hiding behind paint tins in a cold basement. And in one of the most moving lines of the book, he looks at the stars after a period of two years:

From a Himmel Street window, he wrote, the stars set fire to my eyes.

The line reinforced with tragic intensity the suicidal march of a country.

As the novel progressed, the narrative voice started making sense. It is disjointed and  it is fragmentary because life is like that. It isn’t easy, smooth sailing. In fact, it’s a brilliant trope employed by the author.

Stick with the book. It will take time but it will be rewarding.


Opening lines: First the colours. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least how I try.

Title: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Publication Details: London: Black Swan, 2007

First Published: 2005

Pages: 554

Other books with similar theme:

Two LivesBuy Two Lives

Baumgartner’s Bombay


Here’s a link to another review of the book (by Deborah):


The book is easily available in book stores and on the Net, I borrowed it from Delhi Public Library, opposite Old Delhi Railway Station. [N ZAS]


Submitted for the following:

Borrowed Book Challenge

November Book Giveaway

6 thoughts on “Growing Up (with books) in Nazi Germany: The Book Thief

  1. Great review! I read the book a few years ago although I don't much like to read books set in WWII. But this was such an eye opener. I'm from the Netherlands which was occupied by the Germans and so Germans + WWII = bad. But this book showed that there were normal people living in Germany, too, that didn't agree with what was going on. I mean, obviously those people existed, but they are often overlooked by stories. And I definitely haven't read any books set in Germany during WWII, so that was interesting anyway.


  2. Thanks Valli for having a look.Now you mention it, yes it was like Time narrating the story. Incidentally, Mahabharat didn't seem like a never-ending saga. Compared to today's saas-bahu serials which go on and on and on with all those leaps in years, the 52 episodes of Mahabharat were nothing.:)


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