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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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The Book Thief (original 2005; edition 2008)

by Markus Zusak

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24,583148144 (4.38)4 / 1747
arukiyomi's review
Heard a lot about this… all of it good… about how tear-jerking it is and its merits as a page-turner. Hmmmm. Didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. Well-written and original? In places, yes. Gripping? No.

Death narrates his involvement in the life of Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is sent across Germany to the safety of a foster family. She has a hard time settling into her new home and community as most children would. The war begins and, for the first half of the book, its effects are fairly innocuous.

Things however, take a turn for the more sinister when a Jew arrives on their doorstep seeking sanctuary. They give it, and thus begins what I thought was the most interesting part of the book. Max Vandenburg hides out in the cellar and, during that time, the bond between him and Liesel is cemented through their shared love of literature and story-making and their fear of what might be. I won’t tell you how this ends.

I will tell you though, what I thought of the book overall. While I enjoyed many parts of it and appreciated that Zusak is obviously an accomplished writer, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that he wanted to make sure I was aware of this. I got this impression both from style and content.

Style-wise, he can’t really sit still. Doffing the hat to magic-realism here and there, his often casual assumption of context leads to clipped sentences you have to piece together in your head. There are illustrated, hand-written stories. There’s a unique section with each part beginning with the throw of a dice. There are little asides from other books and a dictionary. There’s the narration of death which works at times (e.g. the end) but for most of the novel is neither here nor there. It’s all very busy, busy. Perhaps this is necessary when appealing to young-adults these days. If so, my apologies.

But then there’s content. It’s almost as if Zusak had about four novels in his head and didn’t have the patience to write four books, choosing instead to cram them all into 550 or so pages. There’s the story I’ve just mentioned which is a depiction of a coming-of-age and what is in effect first love. There’s the story of a girl’s love of literature and the worlds this opens up for her. There’s the psychological terror of defying a totalitarian regime. On top of this, you’ve got a depiction of WW2 Germany which is just too detailed to really form a backdrop and yet too hastily sketched to be part of the foreground either. Anti-Semitism., Hitler Youth, Nazism’s effect on the common wo/man, society’s struggle to come to terms with pending defeat, families dealing with loss, the mass bombing of civilians, the guilt of survival, etc. etc. All of this clutters what could otherwise have been a very touching and carefully crafted love story between Liesel and Max.

This book is worth a read, nonetheless, but I disagree strongly with USA Today who said that it deserves a place on the shelf with The Diary of Anne Frank. That’s a travesty. Frank’s diary is a league of its own. It’s not just the circumstances under which it was written and eventually published that make the comparison tragic, it’s in the writing too. Unlike Zusak, Frank did not have to cram her work full of literary devices to keep the reader occupied. There’s a simplicity in Frank’s writing which seems foreign to Zusak. In the end, the overblown prose and content of The Book Thief left me unmoved. It made me long for writers who are skilled not only in what they produce but also in what they choose to leave out as well so that the remainder is exquisitely crafted. If he does possesses this ability, Zusak doesn’t demonstrate it here. ( )
1 vote arukiyomi | Jun 19, 2012 |
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There are a number of reasons as to why I love this book.

1. It's wonderfully written, from a POV that hasn't been used before.
2. Death is actually a wonderful, soulful character. He's witty and, by the end, you can feel his exhaustion.
3. It's plot driven. The only purpose of this book was to show the reader the crudeness, rawness and reality of war.
4. We're shown life in Nazi Germany.

Watch me talk about these points in detail. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

1. It's wonderfully written, from a POV that hasn't been used before.

Because let's be honest, how many books have YOU read that are narrated by Death himself?
He's a very matter-of-fact, yet deeply related character. He is rooted to The Book Thief (Liesel Meminger) and her life.

The narration at times is slow and jumpy. If you aren't paying attention to what you're reading, you're easily lost and may have to start the paragraph/page/chapter again, so I advise anyone who has yet to read this to pay attention at all times else you'll class this as a silly book without actually getting anything from it, when it's anything BUT a silly book.

However, if you follow the narration carefully, you'll notice how, after a while, everything Death says falls into place. I felt like I'd been given a 2,000 piece puzzle and had been asked to complete it without a picture to help, but only with a slow, careful narration.

2. Death is actually a wonderful, soulful character. He's witty and, by the end, you can feel his exhaustion.

Thanks to much literature since the beginning of time, Death has been classified as the enemy: someone to fear, someone to avoid and someone to curse at.

We were told Death looks like this:



Fun Fact: Zusak sees him like this:



We were told Death is spiteful and has no mercy.

The Book Thief's Death, however, is the opposite. He admires and envies us humans, is compassionate and sympathetic and has a body built and bent with sorrow. He truly is a lovely, lovely character and a briliant, intelligent narrator.

3. It's plot driven. The only purpose of this book was to show the reader the crudeness, rawness and reality of war.

It's not a book about a character. It's not a book about the life and purpose of said character.

It's a book illustrating exactly what life was like during the war. All its curses and sorrow and the lives that continued even whilst families and lives were wiped out by bombs and fighting. Children handed to foster families; parents losing their children; the famine and poverty; the pure, unedited reality.

It's not a book about a girl trying to survive the war. It's a book about a girl trying to survive the war like everyone else.

It's not a book about thievery. It's a book showing us the exact lengths people would go to to get what they needed. In this case, it was a girl and her books, but in many, many cases it was a father and bread, a mother and milk, a couple of thieving gangs stealing from farms.

Thousands of people died from hunger. Thousands of people died from disease. Thousands of people killed themselves because they just couldn't see a silver lining.

The crudeness, rawness and reality of war.


4. We're shown life in Nazi Germany.

I have read many a book based during the Second World War. Many of them were written from all around the world. [b:Under a War-Torn Sky|875411|Under a War-Torn Sky|Laura Malone Elliott|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1387651956s/875411.jpg|2870993] and [b:Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal|357160|Tamar A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal|Mal Peet|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320558676s/357160.jpg|347323] are two of my favourites, but neither of those books showed me exactly what I wanted to see: Nazi Germany.

Sure, they mentioned them -- the enemy, the Nazis killing and destroying everything and everyone in their way -- but [b:The Book Thief|19063|The Book Thief|Markus Zusak|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1390053681s/19063.jpg|878368] is based in Nazi Germany and here, as a reader, I finally understand that they lived and died and tried to survive just like the rest of the world. There were children there, too, forced to undertake a stricter regime than the rest of Europe, and the abduction and murdering of Jews was shown ten times as stronger and harsher.

As a reader as well as your every day human being, I never quite got attached to the population of Nazi Germany at the time. Being quarter Jewish, my family and I have a lot of history with Nazi Germany and its concentration camps, but for the first time, as I read [b:The Book Thief|19063|The Book Thief|Markus Zusak|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1390053681s/19063.jpg|878368] I felt and understood and finally came to terms with the fact that there were families and children and innocent souls taken away from Germany as there were from around the world.

I think this is what hit me the most about this particular book. In Death's eyes, we are all the same, and it doesn't matter where we come from or what we have done, because in the end we all die.

And in the end, you must feel sorry for Death, for he is forever haunted by us humans.

All in all, I give this book a glorious five-star rating. It was wonderfully written and perfectly executed.

Well done, [a:Markus Zusak|11466|Markus Zusak|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1376268260p2/11466.jpg], you took my heart and smashed it to pieces.
( )
  Aly_Locatelli | Jan 26, 2015 |
Markus Zusak's _The Book Thief_ remains among the most recommended Young Adult novels following its relatively recent adaptation as a motion picture. Narrated by Death, the book is a coming-of-age story of Liesal Meminger in Nazi Germany during WWII. The book focuses on her relationships with her foster parents (particularly Papa), her best friend Rudy Steiner, Max (a Jewish man temporarily sheltered in her foster parents' basement, the mayor's wife from whom Liesal stole books, and other characters on her street.

Zusak does a good job exploring the layers of relationships that form and break during troubled times and utilizes Death to show aspects of life that a pre-teen girl would not be able to witness first hand. The concept of death and destruction overshadow the plot, though it does not take away from the personal triumphs of our heroine. The importance of knowledge, a love of reading, and the value of books become a focal point of the novel with Leisal using books to remember key events in her life.

_The Book Thief_ is a poignant story of love and loss in the times of war and, I predict, will become a modern classic. ( )
  ShieldmaidenOfRohan | Jan 24, 2015 |
My daughter (13 years old) recommended I read this book, which she read over a year ago. I liked it well enough, it keeps your interest, the characters are individualized, and it reads very quickly. Overall, it is an ok introduction to Nazi Germany for 10-12 year old kids without it going into too much history or too much detail about what went on in the death camps, though it does contain some disturbing events. This would contrast well with "Diary of Anne Frank" (a real diary of a real girl vs. a fictional story). The narration, for me anyway, got a little irritating. Death is the narrator and while, at first, this is an interesting novelty, after a while, it became cloying and irritating. ( )
  Marse | Jan 22, 2015 |
This was a great read. I really did not want to put it down to do all the housework, etc. I just wanted to gobble up the words on the pages. I truly loved that the narrator is Death. I read this after seeing the movie, have to say, I much prefer the book. Descriptive, simply elegant writing style. I have marked passages, phrases and single words in my copy, I don't do this often, only in books that strike a chord in me, this one managed to do several times over. Impressive.
( )
  bb007rn | Jan 19, 2015 |
What a wonderful book! I wanted to read it as it had good reviews. I was not disappointed. It tells a great story filled with joy and sadness and kept me interested until the end. ( )
  Nataliec7 | Jan 17, 2015 |
I loved this book--couldn't put it down! The narrator (Death) was especially appealing. I enjoyed the flashforwards/foreshadowing moments that Death provides as a narrator, even though, as other reviewers have said, this narrative technique does reduce some of the surprise. Overall, really enjoyable and highly recommended! ( )
  AlisonLea | Jan 10, 2015 |
Reading it again for book club.

Loved it just as much, if not more, the second time around. ( )
  carebear10712 | Jan 8, 2015 |
Amazing book. But depressing. However it is beautifully written! ( )
  ericasz | Jan 6, 2015 |
Actually ( The book thief) is amazing book. Personally I like it very mush. It talked (even in small details) about the world war II and what happened on that days. When you start to read it you will think that this book is historic but it will surprise you in a story of small girl called (Liesel) who travel and by violet change her parents. Her little brother die on their way to the new parents. The girl stolen her brother's book. From that day she start to stolen books. Then the event takes place from war to another. ( )
  alsaadiah | Jan 2, 2015 |
Truly engaging, right up to the final heart-wrenching chapters. The main character of the book thief is incredibly well-drawn, and I ended up with a dozen page markers noting passages of stunning prose. My only "complaint" is the use of narrator asides, which consistently pulled me out of the story. A little too gimmicky for my taste. ( )
  phrenetic.mind | Dec 30, 2014 |
Very good - I delayed reading it because I didn't think the premise would be that deep; it turns out (of course) that this is not about stealing books but about the experience of WW2 in Germany ( )
  rlangston | Dec 19, 2014 |
I was really excited to read this book, and I'm sad to say I was disappointed.

I think the story overall was enjoyable, and I loved the characters but the narrator ruined the story for me. It seemed like the narrator intruded on the story whenever it was getting good.

It's not that it wasn't a good book, but it could have been much better. ( )
  jfoooo | Dec 17, 2014 |
This teen historical fiction novel also enchants many adult readers. Set in the time of Nazi Germany, Death, a genial fellow, is the narrator. Liesel Meminger begins stealing books even before she learns to read. Liesel’s foster father teaches her to read to help overcome her nightmares. As Liesel continues to collect books, she also collects friends whose stories intertwine beautiful together. We mentioned it in our discussion of books about books.
  ktoonen | Dec 13, 2014 |
What a sad, strange story. It's one of the most original views of the Holocaust/WWII that I've ever read. Quite simply beautiful.
Read it you saukerl! ( )
  benuathanasia | Dec 11, 2014 |
The old truism works here, the book is better than the movie. Having Death as the narrator was distracting. But otherwise an engaging book. ( )
  charlie68 | Dec 8, 2014 |
Liesel Meminger’s life changes when she steals her first book at her brother’s funeral. As she grows up, comes to love life with her foster family on Himmel street, in Molching, Germany during World War II. Liesel continues to steal books as she struggles to learn how to read, befriends Max, the Jew who her foster parents are hiding in their basement, and falls in love with the boy next door. A book saves Liesel’s life, but it cannot save her loved ones from Death, who is coming to Himmel street. Zusak’s novel is much more than a heartbreaking story about coming-of-age in Nazi Germany; it is also an original and life-changing ode to the power of words to create and to destroy. Foreshadowing is used creatively to create an episodic story narrated by the personified character of Death. An intricate and well-paced new adult novel that has a wide appeal beyond history buffs. Highly recommended. Ages 13 & Up. ( )
  alovett | Dec 2, 2014 |
When nine-year-old Liesel plucks a book out of the snow following her brother's burial, she is unaware that it is merely the first of a number of books she would "steal" over the course of the next few years. At the outset of WWII she is deposited unceremoniously into the home of strangers Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Upon attending school, Liesel is informed that she is woefully behind in reading skills with respect to her peers and, to her embarrassment, she is sent to practice with the kindergartners. Determined to catch up, she enlists Hans' help, and together they spend the wee hours of the mornings slowly working their way through that first stolen book, The Grave Digger's Handbook.

The Book Thief is sweet and tragic. I initially hesitated to pick it up due to the serious subject matter, but Markus Zusak does a charming job managing to humanize the stark, cold face of Germany during WWII. It is a quick, heartbreaking read, but the hazy ending made this reader's analytical brain hurt. ( )
  ryner | Dec 1, 2014 |
(4.0)
  mshampson | Nov 30, 2014 |
This book is truly haunting and heartwarming in equal measure. It is a highly original book- narrated by Death- and has beautiful, poised prose. It will stay with me for a long time. ( )
  martensgirl | Nov 23, 2014 |
The story was good, but I loved this book for the language. ( )
  Delancey.Stewart | Nov 22, 2014 |
I've read this book three times now and it just blows me away each time. I'm so attached to Liesel and her family. They are so very real. But that's why its so sad. It feels like they could be your neighbors, friends or even you. ( )
  sscarllet | Nov 20, 2014 |
I'm glad I avoided a lot of the hype for this book. I knew it was a big deal but I didn't know much about it. But I loved it! It's such a unique way to tell a story, a one-of-a-kind sort of thing that would never really work in any other context than this one. I really loved the pacing of the books, the hints in each chapter of what was to come and the fact that Death was the narrator. I thought it was such a clever way to discuss the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Those events were so horrible that even Death was forever changed. I loved both of Max's stories as well, beautiful little additions. This is one of those books you just don't forget. ( )
  littleton_pace | Nov 20, 2014 |
I could not finish this book. Got half way through it. Must be the only person on earth that did not take to it. I know I am the only person left on earth who has not read a Harry Potter book. ( )
  Alphawoman | Nov 17, 2014 |
One of the most emotional and moving books I've ever read. ( )
  nicholsm | Nov 17, 2014 |
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