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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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24,726148644 (4.38)4 / 1753
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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I actually saw the movie before I read the book on this one. The movie was quite good, and I realize that a movie can never do justice to a book, but the movie but scratched the surface of the book.

The Book Thief is a story told from the viewpoint of Death as he follows her through her life from where she loses her brother in a train accident when they were on the way to live with foster parents till their mother could get on her feet. At her brother's funeral, she steals her first book, The Gravedigger's Manual and keeps it hidden. Liesel can't read or write, but she holds the book as a thing of value, a connection to her brother.

Her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, are an odd pair. Rosa is loud, harsh and often vulgar with her tongue, admonishing as swiftly with her words as she is with her wooden spoon. Hans is gentle and quiet, sitting by Liesel's bed till she falls to sleep at night.

Hans discovers Liesel's book and so begins her journey to learn to read under his gentle tutelage. Chapter by chapter, they work their way slowly through the pages of the book and day by day, their life becomes more strained as the war begins to take more and more from them.

Hans brings in his friend Max one night, a Jewish man, half starved and looking as if he won't make it through the night. He is moved to the cellar where they make a room for him. At first, Liesel is afraid of this strange man, but in time they begin to talk and form a friendship.

All the while, you listen to the voice of Death as he speaks of what he sees, the people he takes in his arms. He speaks of his life and what he has seen. Though he gives special notice to what he sees in this war where there are days when he takes hundreds of souls into his arms. Most, he is relatively disinterested in. Its just what he does, what he has always done. But, there are a few people he has come across that have left a mark. And Liesel is one of them.

I have read a few of the reviews on this book. One said that not enough horror was given to what was done at this time. I will disagree with that. I don't think all books about Nazi occupied Europe need to be filled with all those horrors. There are enough books already that have more than covered it. The horrors are covered just enough so that you don't forget what was going on while the story of the lives of these people unfolds. So, you realize how people made do with less and still found ways to make life.

How sometimes the horror was forgotten for a brief few moments while a young girl named Liesel read to you the pages from a book while the bombs were exploding overhead. How a simple gesture like that distracted you till the shelling stopped and took you to another place where there were no bombs and life had normal desires and fears. Where starving Jews weren't marched down your main street on the way to their death.

It's a brilliant, wonderful, heartbreaking and uplifting story. It tears your heart out of you and then hands it back to you with a smile again and again. The lyrical prose of it will tickle you memory for a very long time after you close the book.

http://sephipiderwitch.com/book-thief-markus-zusak/
February 2015 ( )
  sephibitchwitch | Feb 25, 2015 |
Markus Zusak’s historical novel, The Book Thief, is a heart-wrenching rendition of a sad and shameful era in human history. It’s the story a young German girl, Liesel, who discovers the power of the written word. She first becomes a book thief on the same day her brother dies and her mother hands her over to foster care. While her mother desperately searches for help to bury her child, Liesel discovers a book hidden in the snow: The Grave Digger’s Handbook. She can’t read yet, but she picks it up, and her journey as a book thief begins. This book will shape her destiny. The imagery used to depict the pain and degradation experienced by the Jewish people in wartime Germany is so vivid and stark it will leave you shaken. The discovery of the power of the written word brings joy and a sense of purpose to Liesel’s impoverished world, but she will soon be slapped with the flip side, where words have the power to bring only pain and destruction. Highly recommended. This book cannot leave you untouched. ( )
  Murielle_Cyr | Feb 23, 2015 |
A book to wake up the the slumbering love of reading! The narrative perspective is amazingly unique and one that brings a distinct voice to the reader. The characters are both believable, lovable and hate-able. A new, fresh approach to a topic that is both compelling and difficult to read. Labeled as a young adult book, The Book Thief can be appreciated throughout the generations. ( )
  Deb_Hendry | Feb 21, 2015 |
I read this based on the recommendation by my wife. I thought so much of the book that I looked at the reviews to see how well it fared. I was struck that 8% of the Amazon reviewers actually rated this masterpiece below 4 stars. That just shows that there are a lot of people that just don't get it when faced with literary greatness!

There are thousands of reviews that explain the story and go into lengths about the magnificent characters. I will not rehash other than to say that I agree completely.

In truth, I had a bit of a difficult time with the beginning of the book. I was confused by the narrator and the short kind of cryptic paragraphs. So, persevere and you will figure out and come to embrace them. As you are probably aware, Death is the narrator and came close to being my favorite character in the book. The short cryptic paragraphs give some great insights into the "bones" of the story.

Since it has been almost 10 years since this book was first published, my review is not going to generate much in the way of sales. I just wanted to take the opportunity to praise the quality of work by this talented author. I will have to search out his other works. ( )
  honoliipali | Feb 19, 2015 |
I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie, because books are usually better and I was right. The language of the narrative is so poetic and colorful, you think you are reading poetry even when it's prose. Liesel is dear to my heart as an avid reader, though I did not take so long to start. There is more I could say, but I think everyone else has covered it. ( )
  eliorajoy | Feb 12, 2015 |
I honestly picked up this book because of the title. I thought, oh someone who is stealing books because they love to read.

This was so much more than just about the stealing of books, they truly served a purpose in this story. These books taught a little girl to read, love, share and fight. Let me say, the fact that DEATH was the narrator at first was a little creepy but made complete sense after reading the first several chapters. This book will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and ask why? But, it will also make you understand and hopefully realize that although the characters were portrayed during a horrific event in history, they lived. They lived for each other, with each other and within each other. ( )
1 vote salirce | Feb 11, 2015 |
One of the most beautiful books I've ever read. ( )
  KassandraAlysse | Feb 2, 2015 |
This review is for the audiobook edition.

This is one of the best audiobooks I've listened to. It is a lovely story, funny and sad. It's particularly interesting to have this perspective on life inside Germany during World War II. The writing is stunning; the author continues to find unique ways to express everyday experience through the end of the book. I found myself wanting to write down each new turn of phrase; they are that good.

Allan Corduner's narration is spot-on. I hope he will do much more audiobook narration. He's one of the best. His voicing of the characters was distinct, moving, often funny, pitch-perfect . . . one of those books where you feel you know each character and miss them when the book is over.

I can't recommend this one highly enough. ( )
  bonnyblue | Feb 2, 2015 |


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. ( )
1 vote 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 |
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