Study Guide

The Book Thief Writing Style

By Markus Zusak

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Writing Style

Foreshadowing, Spoiling, Illustrated, A Book-Within-A Book-Within-A-Book

The Book Thief features innovative stylistic techniques. The most obvious innovation (which some readers love and others can't stand) is narrator Death's use of boldface text to relay certain information, such as:

He didn't deserve to die the way he did.

As in the example provided, these sections are used for a few of Death's favorite pastimes: foreshadowing and plot-spoiling. Of course, he doesn't confine this to the boldfaced passages the novel is laced with it. Death is aware of his habit, and after revealing Rudy's imminent death, Death explains:

Of course I'm being rude. I'm spoiling the ending […]. […] I don't have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. (38.1)

But, be careful not to trust Death too much. He's a decent guy and all, but he fools us into thinking there are no surprises left for us at the end. When, in actuality, he withholds from us the fact that Liesel and Max will be reunited after World War II ends. Well, we can sure forgive him for that. The foreshadowing of the other events makes us let down our guards and be surprised.

Death isn't all talk—he also provides illustrations. He gives us books within his books. The Book Thief, the novel we are reading, contains two complete, illustrated stories written by Max Vandenburg. These are The Standover Man and The Word Shaker, both written on painted-over pages of Adolph Hitler's Book, Mein Kampf.

You should really see this. We can still see the traces of Hitler's book, peeking through the white paint. Plus, there are excerpts from the other books that are important to Liesel. This includes her own book, The Book Thief, the story of her life, which Death rescues from a trash truck and reads over and over again before returning it to her when she dies.

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