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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief (original 2005; edition 2008)

by Markus Zusak

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23,502141747 (4.38)4 / 1706
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 1324 (next | show all)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book is just about everywhere and is getting quite a bit of hype online. This is considered a Young Adult fictional book, and there has been a recent movie adaptation of it.
So, it is written from Death's point of view, during WWII. The story follows a German girl, Liesel, from ages 10-14 who lives with foster parents in a very poor part of Germany. Her foster dad teaches her how to read and she begins stealing books. Her life is forever changed when a special someone shows up at her doorstep.
The struggles and reality of life and feelings during this time are shown well throughout the book. The author's idea of writing as Death was great, and is a fresh difference from other books. I did shed a small tear a couple of times in the book, but I didn't sob.
I did enjoy the experience reading the book, and I don't think I would have picked it up without all of the hype. Although it is over 500 pages, it was a very quick read--Zusak is brilliant. With that said, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, stories of perseverance and strength, family values, etc. If you don't like reading about death and slightly gruesome scenes, or if these things are triggers for you, this book may not be for you. ( )
  joaslo | Jul 22, 2014 |
My favorite part of this book was the narrator. I know this book has received much acclaim but I have read better stories about this turbulent period in history. Fortunately for me or unfortunately as it makes me seem like a glutton for punishment, I was determined to complete this book. Don't make any mistake, I respect the subject matter.
The premise of the book is good. It reminds of that families are not always biological. You have love Hans. He is a natural parent and a loyal man. Most people would dislike Rose. I did not. Living her life could not have been easy so her surly disposition is permissible. She is not terribly mean she is simply grumpy but she does have a good heart. Rudy is so much a boy. He wants to have a kiss from Liesel. His receiving the kiss profound. I like the neighborhood dynamics yet the story was missing something. Should you read this book? Yes because every reader needs to makeup their own mind regarding books especially the books that are much hyped. ( )
  vtlucania | Jul 20, 2014 |
This is one of my favorite books of all time. I know that it will be one of the books that stay with me for the rest of my life. Even though it was a book that I had to read, my teacher definitely knew what she was talking about. ( )
  hockeyzc58 | Jul 16, 2014 |
I really enjoyed this book. It was a very touching and original book. I connected to the main character, Liesel. I have a close relationship with my father, kinship with literature, and prefer books over people. I really like the way Zusak portrayed Death as the narrator with his delicate metaphors and fluidity throughout the book. ( )
  aliterarylion | Jul 14, 2014 |
Set in the backdrop of Nazi Germany during World War II, the story is narrated by Death, who has the 'job' of collecting the millions of souls lost in that time. However, this story is not macabre in that is it about life -- the every day life of the common people, specifically that of a small neighborhood outside of Munich, and how their world was turned upside down. The paradox is that while I could not put the book down, I also felt the weightiness of the story and many times felt the need to stop for a while. Achingly beautiful, hauntingly sad.... the reader cannot help but be drawn into the story.
  MomsterBookworm | Jul 14, 2014 |
My irritation grew as I was reading The Book Thief, until it suddenly dawned upon me: this is a Young Readers book camouflaged as a regular novel! And suddenly it all became clear: the shallow and manicheistic character development, the one-sided caricatures of the adult characters in the novel, and the precious writing style. I probably would have loved, nay adored this book when I was, say, 14.
But many moons have passed since then, and now this book just got on my nerves as I progressed. The gimmick of attributing a gender to inanimate objects was cute, and indicated that the narrator was thinking from a German-language perspective. But the gimmick is given up after a few pages (and by the way: why would Death, as the main narrator, be German-speaking anyhow? And how does that explain the errors in German that are sprinkled throughout the book? And I don't mean when Bavarian dialect is used, but actual writing errors). Another gimmick is the synaesthetic attribute, where nouns are matched with odd adjectives: that creates some creative tension initially, but after a few dozen instances one starts to suspect that it is just unimaginative writing. Proof for my thesis that the author had overdosed on the "Figures of Speech" chapter in his creative writing course was the zeugma "She opened the door and her mouth". But by then I'd figured out that this was intended for 14-year olds who love this kind of thing, so I did not get too annoyed.
** (spoilers from here on)** So why was this book so succesful? There must be some kind of Goodwin bonus involved, which makes readers overlook the shoddy writing and plot (the Jewish character which they hide in their basement happens to be a prize fighter with the wisdom of Gandhi, who happens to be walked through the main character's village and is duly liberated from the concentration camp at the end of the war). And, truth be told, there are some moving passages in the book and poetic moments. But the manipulative writing style spoiled it for me. Recommended for that brooding 14-year old who is a bit too smart for her years; she'll love it. ( )
  fist | Jul 13, 2014 |
This is a really different book from it's perspective. No spoiler alert! Read it!! ( )
  hersheymai | Jul 11, 2014 |
I wish I could give this 10 stars. Exquisite. ( )
1 vote twerkysandwich | Jul 10, 2014 |
What I found to be the most interesting aspect of the novel is the use of Death as a narrator/character. This is a book that should be read more than once- there is so much to take in when reading. The fact that one of the book's earliest chapters is also one of the ending events in the book creates questions that will not be answered until the end. The story chronicles the life of Liesel Meminger as she grows up in a foster home and learns to rebuild her life after the death of her brother and her mother's abandonment. Her life intersects with other important characters and helps to shape her views of Jewish persecution and her views of Hitler as a ruler. At the beginning of the novel, she admires Hitler and dreams of him giving speeches. By the end of the novel, she has an entirely different view of Hitler and his Nazi party. She learns to feel compassion and understands injustice and cruelty. Although I know some students who have read the book in 5th grade, I would not recommend this book until the 8th grade or high school. It is an amazing book. ( )
  SuPendleton | Jul 9, 2014 |
This story is narrated by Death and is set during World War II in Germany. Liesel is a young girl, living with Hans and Rosa, who are her foster parents. She has a best friend, Rudy, and a new friend in Max, a Jew who comes to hide in Hans and Rosa's basement. Liesel learns that she loves books, and along with Rudy, they steal books from the mayor's wife's library.

I liked it, but it didn't blow me away like it did for most people. I don't know if it was because I listened to the audio or because my expectations were too high, or for some other reason, but the story didn't grip me. I did enjoy a lot of the characters in the book, in particular, Hans and Max, with Rosa coming in close behind. I thought it was clever to be narrated by Death. The ending did surprise me. ( )
  LibraryCin | Jul 8, 2014 |
Wow. That is the best word for this incredible book.

It is narrated by Death, who is telling the story of a young girl in nazi Germany. It was an amazing book.

Read it. Now. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
How can something be so beautiful and terrible at the same time?

A thief, many books, many words, a child who wants to be black, a breathing accordion, a Jew with feathered hair and angel's words, a closet with a penchant for pigs, a Führer, a war, a train, a brother ... and death.

This book is narrated by death, a death that has heart.One that does not beat, but not by that means that is less alive than any of us, because his heart can love, and I'm sure if he could die, his soul would be also very light.

A story like death itself, beautiful but terrible.

Authentic, original, touching. Perfect. ( )
  Glire | Jul 7, 2014 |
One of those stories that you just want to hold next to your heart. ( )
  Jolynne | Jul 4, 2014 |
You know when you read a book that will stay with you forever. When the words are more than just ink on paper and the characters are more than creative figments of a writer's imagination. When each page makes you want to select at least one sentence to record again - in your own hand - to keep as your own. The Book Thief is that book.

"It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away."

The Book Thief is the story of a girl growing up in a war. She lives on an ordinary street in Munich, Germany, but she - and her story - are anything but ordinary. Her name is Liesel Meminger and her tale is narrated by Death.

A nine-year-old girl finds herself watching as her younger brother is buried in the cold snow, standing alone as she is left by her mother, fearing the unknown as she is delivered on the doorstep of her foster parents - all while her country is falling under the spell of Hitler. Hans Hubermann, her foster father, teaches her to read; to understand the power of words. It is a lesson that Liesel will never forget. It will become the thing that saves her life.

Powerful, profound, and unforgettable, this is a book that will keep a permanent home on my over-crowded bookshelf. More than just a story - an illustration of the might and the majesty of words.

"There was once a strange, small man . . . but there was a word shaker, too." ( )
  Jenna.Czaplewski | Jul 3, 2014 |
Excellent book about the difficulties faced by the Jews during WWII ( )
  MaryCE | Jul 3, 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 | Jul 1, 2014 |
This book was an blend of beauty and brutality. It haunts me.

I almost gave up after the first dozen pages. But then the writing style became more comfortable as the young protagonist buries her brother and goes to live with her foster family in Hitler's Germany. ( )
  dougcornelius | Jun 30, 2014 |
There are so many reasons one might hesitate to read The Book Thief, and I think they can easily be summed up in a sentence:

"This is a novel about a girl in Nazi Germany during World War II, narrated by Death."

That narrator gave me more pause than the Nazi Germany or World War II elements, to be honest. For one thing, it suggested that The Book Thief might have paranormal elements, which rarely appeal to me; that was a misconception, fortunately. It also suggested that this novel might be a sad, weepy downer–which actually fits with the Nazi Germany/WWII elements. And there are parts of The Book Thief that are hard to get through without getting a bit choked-up and misty-eyed. They are honestly earned. There are also parts that are amusing, heartwarming, and provoking.

The story told by Death is one of the most life-affirming novels I’ve ever read, and is ultimately a story of love–love of friends, of family, of home, and of books. ( )
  Florinda | Jun 30, 2014 |
I'll admit, I only picked up this book because I had read so many good reviews. I didn't really feel it was worth it part way through. The last few chapters were beautifully tragic. To know its coming, to want it to change and to feel that inevitability.
The writing is deeply beautiful. How can words so beautiful describe something so painful? I cried tears for the characters and for the pain and hopelessness of a story told a thousand times and never fully understood outside of its participants.
I cannot write all these feelings as I simply do not have the words but I recommend this book to anyone who doesn't mind their heart breaking a little with each of the 550 pages. ( )
  Jayne.Winn | Jun 26, 2014 |
Opening lines:
First the colors.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
Or at least, I try.

The Book Thief is the first book I’ve re-read(besides my annual Harry Potter re-read) since I started blogging. A few weeks ago, I started CRAVING a re-read of this book. I think the movie trailer had something to do with it, but all I knew was that I needed to read this book, and the sooner the better. I was able to borrow a copy from the library, and the story is every bit as moving and beautiful as I remembered it.
I read this book for the first time before it had really started to become popular, about a year after it had been released. The librarian at my high school recommended it to me, and the first page seemed interesting enough. I had no idea that I was entering a story that would both warm my heart and break it all at the same time.

The narration of death is what makes this book unique, of course, but even without it I think it would be a stunning and moving book. The extra narration really adds to the feel of World War II, and I like the bird eye view of humanity. It made me feel so close and yet distant from the story depending on how it was being told. The way that words play such a large role in this book have always affected me as a lover of words.

I have hated the words
and I have loved them
And I hope I have made them right.

Out of every line of every book ever written that I’ve read, I think this is the one that may have struck a chord with me the most. There’s something profoundly moving about the power of words, and their weight(including the not-so-great parts at time), set against the bleak backdrop of Nazi Germany.

The story behind The Book Thief seems quite simple on the surface. Liesel is sent to her foster family, and they live a life. A life that includes hardship, but some beauty, and a boy who quickly becomes Liesel’s best friend. A life that includes quite a bit of words and books and the hiding of a Jew in Nazi Germany, and includes quite a bit of side effects of the war. At it’s essence, this is Liesel’s story, one that is just her life story but also contains nothing “just” about the story she tells with her life.

There is so much pain and beauty in this book that it’s hard to put it into words. I am not sure I personally am making the words right to capture this stunning story, but I do know that this is a book that has lingered with me for years. Liesel, Rudy, the Jewish fist-fighter, the words, the accordion, the stealing, and death. A string of words that may not mean anything if you haven’t read this book, but also a string of words that may bring back the memories of this haunting story if you had read it. So if you haven’t read this book yet, if you read perhaps these words will mean something. They certainly do to me.

Final Impression: There’s a reason this book is mentioned. It deserves every bit of recognition it gets and the more I read the story, the more I fall in love with it. It’s beautiful, and heart-breaking, but also deeply moving. Liesel’s life includes so many things–friends and family and heartbreaks and secrets– all exacerbated by the backdrop of war and Hitler. World War II isn’t a time period I typically enjoy reading about, but this book is so, so much more than a war story. This re-read has solidified this book as one of my all-time favorites. ( )
  Stormydawnc | Jun 23, 2014 |
I was very excited to read this book from all the hype and also because I teach both WWII and The Holocaust. However, this book fell fall short of my expectations. It was very slow moving and absolutely nothing new to ponder or think about was brought forth in the movie. Quite frankly, I was bored. The book really isn't about "books" or a "thief", if that's what you are wanting. They are side line conversations. ( )
  tess_i_am48 | Jun 22, 2014 |
Horribly boring.. I barely made it through! Would not read again, not even sure how they made a movie from it. ( )
  brokenever | Jun 18, 2014 |
This book is told in a perspective that you wouldn't expect. It's different than most books and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Some characters are easy to relate to as well. 4Q4P The cover art is awesome and I'd recommend this book for high school students and adults. I chose to read this book because I heard about the movie and wanted to read the book before I watched it. KalseeD
  edspicer | Jun 16, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.


A Steal

The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, the person referred by the novel's title, living her early teenage years at a suburban town in Germany at the onset of World War II. Left to the care of the foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann, Liesel starts anew with new friends and family as she experiences various things, like stealing one book after another, witnessing Jews marching to concentration camps, coming to terms with the many losses in her life, and coming up triumphant at the end of it all. An admirable life-affirming story, it is not only targeted at the younger audience but to the general reading populace as well.

There is one thing I realized after finishing this novel: I rate books according to my mood. My temperament incredibly shifts up and down without warning. Although I still practice what's left of my good judgment during such mood swings, I sometimes can't help it if I begrudge a novel an additional star or if I give one more out of sheer whim. The latter is the case with this book.

This does not mean that I was merely high on Prozac, so to speak, when I gave this a stellar rating. It has its good points. Foremost, its subject matter gives an epic sweep to it considering that it is a young adult novel. That alone is an impressive feat. Why introduce topics that most of us would rather erase from the pages of history?

But these we must face. It is bold for a writer to tell a story about the Holocaust and address it to young readers. It is audacious for Zusak to experiment with form and test it on his intended audience. And yet he succeeds, for this is not only a novel for the young adults but for the adult adults as well. In this, he gives away everything at the start of each plot point but still manages to make the reader continue reading until the end. Why shouldn't we know how things will end for the characters if the narrator is not Liesel Meminger, but the all-knowing and ever-present Death?

I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

Death is a quirky narrator. Saramago's Death at Intervals came to mind during the first reading. There is something gritty about books personifying Death, a literary technique that I approve. What entity can better ponder on the affirmations of life's impermanence aside from Death? In this, the running commentaries of Death tread on simple facts that aren't deeply philosophical on the surface but are inherently existential. One such fact is that you are going to die. Nothing more, no if's and why's.

But why does Liesel steal books? Is this an attempt to get back at life, or death, for stealing important pieces of her own? At the start, the heroine is shocked and traumatized by witnessing the death of her younger brother, coughing his life away by the snow-filled railroad station. This is Death's first encounter with the book thief, who was yet to become an official thief at that time. During the burial, one of the gravediggers left his manual on gravedigging, and this manual becomes the object of Liesel's thievery.

Ironically, she hasn't even learned how to read at that time. Reading will come later, and this she will learn from her foster father, Hans, an enigmatic and introspective man who always holds Liesel's hands during her nightmares. His character reflects majority of this novel's heart. Running the household with the little money that he earns from painting houses and playing the accordion, he endures life with a quiet fortitude. He does his best to hold on to his principles in a country run by Nazis.

Another character that the reader must look out for is Rudy Steiner, Liesel's best friend who will eternally haunt her for a kiss. If Hans provides the heart, Rudy contributes to the humor, along with the formidable and foul-mouthed Rosa, Liesel's foster mother. It would be a mistake to only attribute the funny moments to these two since they also pull the heart's strings with their little acts of kindness.

More books will be stolen, and there will also be books to be written. Some of the latter will be penned, and drawn, by Liesel's friend, a Jewish-German named Max Vandenburg, whom Hans sheltered in their basement and who will paint pictures of the sky based on Liesel's descriptions. How he made it to the Hubermann household has a deep connection with Hans's past as a war veteran of World War I.

So what other books will be written aside from Max's graphic novels? It's in the hands of Death. It is a story that will be told to the reader, and although it is not a pitch-perfect story, it is one that is filled life's tragedies and triumphs. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
This is one of two books in my YA collection for which I chose 5Q for my VOYA codes. It is hard to imagine this book being better written. It begins with the introduction of Death, the narrator, as a charming and charismatic character, and continues throughout the novel. Descriptive narratives place the reader within the time and place the characters inhabit, and nimble dialog and action descriptions carry the plot along, while allow the reader to feel that she is there, in the story. I chose 5P because I do think that most teens would find this book interesting and a great read. It was popular enough to be made into a movie, as well.

The Book Thief is set during 1939 in Nazi Germany, and it is narrated by Death. The story is about an orphan who steals and collects books. Her foster family hides a Jew in their basement. One major theme in the novel is the friendship between the protagonist and her best friend, a neighbor boy. Death introduces the story by saying:

“It’s just a small story really, about, among other things
* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery
I saw the book thief three times.”

This book was well-reviewed and popular. It's a gripping new take on Nazi Germany, a topic Jewish teens may be tired of hearing about. Great for a book talk, the novel opens up discussions about ethics and survival in the context of strong and evil cultural currents. It invites a discussion of whether to encourage empathy for what many Germans experienced during World War II. ( )
  HollyHerndon | Jun 7, 2014 |
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