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

by Markus Zusak

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
24,429147245 (4.38)4 / 1737
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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Showing 1-25 of 1377 (next | show all)
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 |
The first ever book that I wanted to read on forever... ( )
2 vote FarihaImami | Dec 18, 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 |
I remember picking this book up in a store once or twice, reading the blurb on the back, and putting it down again. There was just something about it that didn’t appeal. Maybe I was being picky, so many people had raved about it, and the film was due out. So when it was my book club’s pick for May, I greeted it positively.

It is the story of a girl, Liesel,who is fostered with a family in Monching, Hitler’s birthplace, just before world war 2. It is a finely detailed adventure through the impacts of anti-semitism, Hitler’s economic and social policies and their impact on the general population, and growing up in impoverished circumstances. I started out intrigued, and slightly wrong-footed, by the point of view, since the story is told by Death, but it focuses almost entirely on Liesel’s perspective. It’s quirky and strange, with odd interjections in bold face, explaining certain vernacular details, or providing some extra scene-setting or character information in a format like a text box.

The quirkiness lost its charm as the tale progressed, and I’m afraid I was finding it a duty to read, rather than an enjoyment. Yes, I was ‘somewhat interested’ in what happened to Liesel, but on the whole, I didn’t enjoy it, and spent many days wishing I didn’t have to read it. It became tedious. I jumped over to another book, and then another before I dragged myself back to it. But I did drag myself back to it. It had just enough fascination not to be abandoned. I can’t imagine how they made it into a film, though. I don’t intend to find out.

A unique perspective on a well-thumbed period of history. ( )
  Jemima_Pett | Nov 11, 2014 |
65. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005, 564 page Paperback, Read November 1-9)

This was a pleasant place to pass some time. I know that pleasant is an odd word for a book about Nazi Germany, even if it's Young Adult, but Zusak really doesn't ever reach what I would consider reality. He hovers about in an artificial feeling world.

There are a zillion reviews, but, for those who haven't read it or the reviews, Zusak is an Australian author whose parents spent WWII in Germany and Austria. He took something from their stories, although I didn't find what exactly he took, to create a story around a bombed out street in a small town near Munich. There is a long lead up, following a young girl named Liesel Meminger who begins the book as a 9-year-old orphan, and early on befriends a young boy so inspired by Jesse Owens 1936 Berlin Olympic heroics, that he paints himself black and takes to a track to imitate Owens.

Probably you shouldn't take the book too seriously, although it has it's complexities. But if you can hang out with it, Zusak will do a good job of keeping you entertained with his narrator, a wistful personification of Death, and give you plenty of stuff to build around and to mull over what it might have actually been like in Nazi Germany. A successful entertaining book. ( )
2 vote dchaikin | Nov 10, 2014 |
Amazing what children can do ( )
  jayney576 | Nov 7, 2014 |
I cannot handle this book. It is too beautiful, too tragic, too real. The writing is just beautiful. Gorgeous. Incomprehensibly so. I don't understand how Zusak does it. It's just beautiful. The story is heartbreaking and beautiful and I love it even though I was in tears as I finished the book. I love it. Oh gosh I love it so much.

This book will capture your soul.

Read it. ( )
  BrynDahlquis | Nov 7, 2014 |
It was a great read. Powerful and interesting. ( )
  Thomas_Cannon | Nov 5, 2014 |
It was a great read. Powerful and interesting. ( )
  Thomas_Cannon | Nov 5, 2014 |
It was a great read. Powerful and interesting. ( )
  Thomas_Cannon | Nov 5, 2014 |
Such a wonderfully written book, made me cry! ( )
  LouieAndTheLizard | Nov 2, 2014 |
I cried. Yes, the evil that is Anastacia cried at the end. I'm getting old.. ( )
  lesindy | Nov 1, 2014 |
This is a tough one to review. Markus Zusak's 2005 novel, The Book Thief is powerful, unique, often poignant and sometimes a bit confusing, ride. I can’t say I loved the book all the way through or that I think it’s the best book I’ve ever read, but I will applaud the unique approach to storytelling that drew me in from the first page. The Grim Reaper is an interesting POV – that was wonderful. The big downfall in this daringly written novel is the weak plot. It drags. And yet parts were brilliant.
The interesting characters carry the story; a German husband and wife who are not Hitler enthusiasts, not communist, not anything really except two hard working, good people (this is a rare viewpoint from what we usually read about; Holocaust survivors’ or Nazi’s, the two extremes. It was nice to hear from the people lost in the middle). These two poor people take in a child, whose parents were communist, and love her. Then they take in Jew and hide him in the basement. Very risky, very dangerous. And yet, the plot still drags. When the young Jewish man that’s being hidden in a basement writes his own story of over the pages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, it was the only time I felt a tear. That bit was excellent. However, as experimental writing goes, this is well worth a read and deciding for yourself. This is a book to explore on your own, it’s too unique to take someone else’s word. It must be experienced. That’s why people either love it or hate it, or somewhere in between. Judge for yourself. www.mindyhalleck.com
( )
  mindyshalleck | Oct 29, 2014 |
Showing 1-25 of 1377 (next | show all)

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