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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief (original 2005; edition 2008)

by Markus Zusak

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23,930143945 (4.38)4 / 1720
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 1345 (next | show all)
Very good book! I really detested Rosa Hubermann in the beginning but changed my opinion as the story developed and you saw a side of her that she didn't reveal to Liesel and definitely not to her neighbors. The Hubermanns showed a humanity just in taking in Liesel as her you learn that her parents or at least her father had been Communists. In sheltering Max they take a risk that very few in Nazi Germany would have been willing to take, promise or no promise. The author makes the characters come alive for the reader. Worth the read ( )
  lisa.schureman | Sep 20, 2014 |
Death is always busy- he has been since the dawn of humankind. But in the year 1939, a world war is on the edge of the horizon, and Death is going to get a lot busier. But throughout this all, he takes a special notice in Liesel Meminger, a nine year old dropped virtually orphaned and adopted by a couple living right in the middle of Nazi Germany. Liesel lives a typical life of a German child, until the night when a half-dead Jew staggers into the kitchen for the Hubermanns’ to hide. Liesel is disgusted at first, until she realizes that this Jew is a person, a fistfighter, a survivor, an orphan- and that he has a way with words, just like her. Together, their stories are woven together with one character appearing in both stories- Adolf Hitler, the very first word shaker.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is a historical fiction young adult read that is worth every single page of the book. Divided into ten sections, one for each of Liesel’s stolen books, Zusak tells the enthralling tale of a girl living in a realistic war-torn Germany but is yet an extremely relatable and likeable character who isn’t afraid to be a child, even as she lies like a con man to protect an innocent man. A must read, regardless of one’s age or gender. A brilliant work, moving, and sad. ( )
  degrbr14 | Sep 16, 2014 |
I'll be honest, I never really read this kind of novel. I like sci fi and fantasy. I'll read classics and books of great literature, but for the most part I like genre books. My sister read this book recently , fell in love with it and hasnt stopped badgering me about checking it out. I read it when our family was on vacation and I didnt have anything else to read.

I'll admit it, I liked it. ( )
  karencase | Sep 8, 2014 |
Well-written, but slightly difficult for me to follow; I'm not certain why. I knew nothing about the book going into it, and have to say that I really was pleased to find a novel that focused on what happened to the average German during the Second World War. It's definitely something that I think schools should be assigning as reading, alongside other texts from that time period. ( )
  themythicalcodfish | Sep 7, 2014 |
If you haven't read this, stop what you're doing and get on it. No words. You will cry. You will be touched. This book begs to be read. ( )
  pennylane78 | Sep 6, 2014 |
As I have said in other reviews, I am not a fan of historical fiction. But this book was both amazing and beautiful. It is told from the perspective of Death, which definitely makes the story. Set in Germany in WWII, it tells the story of a young girl who loses everything in an attempt to not end up in a concentration camp. It is heartbreaking watching her struggle through her hatred and loss. I highly recommend this book, I think everyone should read it. ( )
  alb2219 | Sep 5, 2014 |
A trajetória de Liesel Meminger é contada por uma narradora mórbida, surpreendentemente simpática. Ao perceber que a pequena ladra de livros lhe escapa, a Morte afeiçoa-se à menina e rastreia suas pegadas de 1939 a 1943. Traços de uma sobrevivente: a mãe comunista, perseguida pelo nazismo, envia Liesel e o irmão para o subúrbio pobre de uma cidade alemã, onde um casal se dispõe a adotá-los por dinheiro. O garoto morre no trajeto e é enterrado por um coveiro que deixa cair um livro na neve. É o primeiro de uma série que a menina vai surrupiar ao longo dos anos. O único vínculo com a família é esta obra, que ela ainda não sabe ler. Assombrada por pesadelos, ela compensa o medo e a solidão das noites com a conivência do pai adotivo, um pintor de parede bonachão que lhe dá lições de leitura. Alfabetizada sob vistas grossas da madrasta, Liesel canaliza urgências para a literatura. Em tempos de livros incendiados, ela os furta, ou os lê na biblioteca do prefeito da cidade. A vida ao redor é a pseudo-realidade criada em torno do culto a Hitler na Segunda Guerra. Ela assiste à eufórica celebração do aniversário do Führer pela vizinhança. Teme a dona da loja da esquina, colaboradora do Terceiro Reich. Faz amizade com um garoto obrigado a integrar a Juventude Hitlerista. E ajuda o pai a esconder no porão um judeu que escreve livros artesanais para contar a sua parte naquela História. A Morte, perplexa diante da violência humana, dá um tom leve e divertido à narrativa deste duro confronto entre a infância perdida e a crueldade do mundo adulto, um sucesso absoluto - e raro - de crítica e público.
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  melissa.gamador | Sep 4, 2014 |
Un libro increíble .La Muerte hablando en primera persona y su lógica simple :"todos van a morir",aparece como la desesperanza total.Pero la encantadora niña Liesel es una Luz de alegría y esperanza en ese entorno dramático de la segunda guerra mundial. Ella y sus padres adoptivos ,su amiguito enamorado Rudi ,Mark,y los personajes que aparecen dan lecciones valiosas del honor,la solidaridad y la valentía en ese momento terrible de la historia. ( )
  monikarganaraz | Aug 29, 2014 |
The very least I can say about this book is that it is different from pretty much everything I have already read so far. The story happens in Germany during World War II and talks about poor people during the Nazi period, which is supposed to be a heavy theme, and yet the book manages to deliver a light, almost delicate narrative. It felt almost like reading Anne Frank's diary, but from a slightly different point of view. A fun reading, great for who is trying to escape the regular Hero's Journey. ( )
  aryadeschain | Aug 26, 2014 |
I adored this book. Having the narrator as death was brilliant, perfect setting for it. This was a book that I wanted to go on forever. I finished it extremely quickly and anything that will follow this book is bound to suck. Every character is richly colored that gives you the feeling of wanting to know this person. I felt connected with the town, the characters and even the narrator. I would highly recommend this book to anyone! ( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
I am in love with this book. I love the narrator's voice. I love the tone of the whole thing. All of these huge events happen and you can feel it, you experience it. The good and the bad. I was kept in suspense even when it was obvious what was about to happen. The language is particular, chosen with careful consideration. The syntax of each sentence is beautiful.

The only thing that bothered me was the occasional jump in time. Telling the end of a story before the beginning. Although this was beautiful in every instance it was used in it also made some portions a little hard to follow. Truly, though, a beautiful book. ( )
  KRaySaulis | Aug 13, 2014 |
This book was so good. It was so many things. Unnerving. Traumatic. Sad. Eye opening. Thought provoking. Yes it is a long book but its not a loooong book by which I mean it wasnt a dragging book. This book leaves you feeling saddened and emotionally charged as well as somewhat raw. It really gets you thinking. ( )
  Tiffy83 | Aug 11, 2014 |
So incredible! Beautiful, heartbreaking, and engaging through and through. The curious viewpoint made it all the more tremendous and terrible. The characters were so alive and the setting so real and however... one expects a horrendous, war-torn city, yet seeing the characters going about their business, day to day is almost surreal. ( )
  LaPhenix | Aug 10, 2014 |
I don't even know what to say or write at this point. This book is still sinking into my very being. Without rivalling The Diary of Anne Frank in any way, it tells the story of a girl in Germany during the time of Hitler's War. It touched me so much, I couldn't shed a tear at the end. There was too much to cry about, that if I started, I would never stop. I can only suggest to everyone that they read this book. ( )
  mreed61 | Aug 10, 2014 |
My heart is broken. Pulverized. Shattered. I’m not surprised, not really. I knew I was in for a ride when I cried while reading the prologue. The Prologue. I mean, seriously? The book hadn’t even officially started yet and I was moved to tears. It could have been the subject matter of the story but, more than likely, it was the words that were used to tell that story. Because, if nothing else, Markus Zusak schools you in the power of words. Not only their ability to tell a story, but the incredible power they have to hurt, to comfort, to inspire, to heal. To Destroy. To Save.

“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

The Book Thief is the story of a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. A girl who steals books, befriends a Jew, and refuses kisses from a boy with hair the color of lemons. A normal girl who happens to live during a tragic time in history. And while this story is far from ordinary, the way that it was written is what makes it truly extraordinary.

One of my favorite things about this book was the writing. Zusak has this ability to describe things in such a way that they completely come to life. They pop off of the page, get right in your face, and dare you not to get sucked in.

“The crowd was itself. There was no swaying it, squeezing through or reasoning with it. You breathed with it and you sang its songs. You waited for its fire.”

On top of that, Zusak is a master storyteller. He takes his time weaving his tale, making sure that you are completely invested in his world and the characters that live within it. These people are your neighbors, your friends, and your family. You know every facet of their everyday lives: their worries, their hopes, their fears. You come to know each of them intimately, which is a blessing and a curse, because the more he gives to you, the more he can take away. And take he does, but not without warning. At least he gives us that.

But it’s not the sad things that define this book. It’s the reminder that even in the darkest times, the strength and warmth of the human spirit can still shine through. It’s an accordion player with a heart of gold. It’s words painted on a basement wall. Thirteen gifts at the foot of a bed. Stars that burn your eyes. A snowman in the cellar. It’s the bread giver. The word shaker. The book thief. It’s the knowledge that even through tragedy, hope can be found.

“In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer—proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water.”

If you have not read this book yet, do yourself a favor and do it now. The Book Thief is one of those books that will rock your world and, quite possibly, change your life. I know it’s one of the best books that I’ve ever read and has earned a permanent home on my bookshelf. I cannot recommend it enough. ( )
  dkgarner95 | Aug 9, 2014 |
Beautifully written, quirky and haunting. I loved this book! ( )
  cojak | Aug 8, 2014 |
Involving tale of the holocaust with its heart in the right place. ( )
1 vote jerhogan | Aug 6, 2014 |
An incredible book. Well written, with interesting, wonderfully realized characters. I'm actually sad I've finished the book, that's how good it is. I need to process all this more before writing a review. I highly recommend this book. It's about the Holocaust but told in a very unique way. ( )
  PaulaKrapf | Aug 2, 2014 |
I was given this book for my birthday by my Aunt. Previous to this I had seen the book and heard about well before the movie had been talked about, but I had written it off as something that wasn't for me. I could not have been more wrong.

I do not have the words to describe exactly how I feel upon completion of this book. This story was heartbreaking yet at times quite humorous, I sobbed and I laughed. There is nothing I can say which I am sure has not already been said so all I will say is this; if you have not read this book, please do, I am sure you will not regret it. ( )
  NicolePatrick | Jul 30, 2014 |
I listened to this in audio form and this book is absolutely amazing. I knew what type of ending to expect going into this and I was not disappointed. ( )
  nycke137 | Jul 29, 2014 |
I listened to this in audio form and this book is absolutely amazing. I knew what type of ending to expect going into this and I was not disappointed. ( )
  nycke137 | Jul 29, 2014 |
I listened to this in audio form and this book is absolutely amazing. I knew what type of ending to expect going into this and I was not disappointed. ( )
  nycke137 | Jul 29, 2014 |
I wasn't sure I would enjoy this book when I picked it up, but I was in for a wonderful surprise. What starts off as an interesting premise, the life of a young girl during WWII who loves books enough to go out of her way to obtain them, quickly becomes a story that you can't put down. All of the characters are charming and put through heart-wrenching circumstances that accurately reflect how life was in Germany during the war, and I was in tears more often than once. That said, there are certainly some funny and thoroughly memorable things that happen as well, and enough action to keep the story intense and in high-gear. After I finished the book I watched the movie and it too was worth every moment of my attention. This is a keeper for my own kids and grandchildren to read and watch. ( )
  Musefall | Jul 29, 2014 |
Summary: The story is told by Death and it is s sotry of Liesel who is ten years old and is traveling on a train with her mother and little bother Werner. Liesel and Werner are being taken into Germany to be with foster parents. However, Werner dies on the train mysteriously but it had something to do with lack of poverty,hunger, cold, and medical treatment. During the funeral service, Liesal steals THe grave Diggers Handbook from the cemetery but she is unable to read. Once she is with her foster family, she starts school but is behind from the ability of not being able to read. Her foster father discovers the book she stole, and he is inspired to teach her to read. Basically the story reflect on the Nazi police and in the end , Liesel dies (when she is older) but did live a happy life with her husband, kids, and grandkids.
Personal REflection: The books has lots of twists and turns. I feel like the book can get a little confusing with so many plot twists in it. I enjoyed reading it and loved how suspicious it was. However, i may have over read this part, but what is the reasoning they were being put into foster care in the first place?
Classroom Extensions: Compare and contrast a poem "Death be not Proud" by John Donne to the book thief. Look back at the holocaust and use sources from this.
  atinney16 | Jul 24, 2014 |
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 |
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