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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief (original 2005; edition 2008)

by Markus Zusak

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23,436141047 (4.38)4 / 1704
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 1318 (next | show all)
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 |
For years now, I have wanted to read The Book Thief, but always put it off for one reason or another. I am beyond grateful to have finally read such a unique and beautiful novel. The narrator of the story is a large contributor of its uniqueness, it is Death. But Death is completely overshadowed by the main character, Liesel Meminger, a foster child forced to live with a new family, in a new town, in nazi Germany. All of the characters seem like flesh and blood captured on the page, and I feel like I know them.

I believe The Book Thief is the epitome of a modern classic not only for its depiction of the persecution of the Jews and the lives of the German citizens, but for being uplifting and utterly devastating at the same time. As I read, my heart soared and broke so many times. It's definitely the most emotional and unforgettable book that I have read in a while.

This book is labeled as young adult, but by no means is it only for young adults. I strongly recommend. ( )
  LauraT81 | Jun 5, 2014 |
The first thing that's strikes you when you start reading The Book Thief is that it's narrated by Death. I was afraid at first that this was simply a device to make the novel appear more literary, or that it was for shock value at the start and the narrator would soon become irrelevant to the story. I was wrong on both counts. The narrator ends up being integral to the power of the novel. The Book Thief is one of those rare books where its quirks and unusual techniques draw you further into the story rather than throw you out of the world being created. The writing has a haunting simplicity. As Death says: "I'm haunted by humans." ( )
  DirkStrasser | Jun 5, 2014 |
Although not strictly-speaking linear or plot-driven (there are interruptions), The Book Thief is still a novel that reads in one big gulp. Zusak’s literary conceit is to employ Death (that old gatherer of souls) as his omniscient (or almost so) narrator. An ordinary (not allegorical) 3rd person omniscient narrator would have served the novel’s purposes just as well, I think, as it would have avoided a certain mawkishness that adheres to using the Grim Reaper as storyteller. To Zusak’s credit, his framing device does not destroy the tale he tells; it just doesn’t add anything to it. The tale itself is not a new one. We’ve read versions of this story umpteen times before. The setting is Germany (Molching near Munich near Dachau to be exact) under the 3rd Reich and during WWII. The protagonist is a child (an orphan for all practical purposes) named Liesel Meminger who arrives in Molching after having witnessed the death of her younger brother Werner on the train en route. Apparently, her mother must entrust her children (now her only child)to a foster home for reasons that have something to do with Liesel's absent father, a man associated with the word communist. Associations with words are critical in this novel, for it is a story about both the negative (Adolf Hitler’s demagoguery, for example) and the positive power of words. Liesel arrives at the home of her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann as an illiterate. Hans painstakingly teaches her to read, using as his primer The Gravedigger’s Handbook, Liesel’s first “stolen” book (dropped by one of the men digging her brother’s grave). Hans is a housepainter and an accordionist. He paints vocabulary words on the basement walls and sits with Liesel at night when nightmares of her brother’s death terrorize her. Rosa is a foul-mouthed washerwoman (Saumensch, Saukerl and Arschloch are her favorite expletives) who at first seems mean but, of course (as is imperative in such fairy tales) has a heart of gold. Rudy Steiner, a boy who once painted himself with charcoal and raced through town to emulate the American athlete Jesse Owens, becomes Liesel’s best friend and partner in thievery. His heart's desire is a kiss from Liesel (one that is never granted). And then, of course, there is The Jew in Hiding, in this case Max Vandenburg, son of Hans’s best friend in the trenches of WWI, the man whose accordion he inherited and the man who “saved his life.” Hans had once made a promise of help to Max’s mother and hiding Max in the Hubermann basement is the consequence of that promise. And so, we have all the familiar elements: Hitler, WWII, Germans who hide Jews, book burnings, bombing raids, and the Holocaust as context. And a slew of very engaging characters (many reminiscent of characters from other novels, such as Stones from the River, Kavalier and Klay and The Ogre). As mentioned above, this is a fairy tale, a dark one considering the historical context, but one that we read as such. There is not quite a happy ending (too many people must die) but since both Liesel and Max survive (to the extent that anyone survives) The Book Thief is not, in any classical sense, a tragedy. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
A beautiful and tragic tale narrated by death. This story of WWII and Hitler is told from the point of view of a little German girl. ( )
  Tina_Ervin | May 22, 2014 |
Haunting, beautiful, exquisite... It leaves me deeply moved. No words, just emotion. ( )
  AaronKappel | May 22, 2014 |
I really enjoyed this book. Zusak is a word artist. His writing has such a poetic element to it. The novel is also not set up in a typical novel format and once I got used to it, I was able to greatly enjoy the style. I fell in love with Liesel and was able to celebrate her joys and mourn her sorrows. This book is easy to start and finish in a sitting. Absolutely fantastic. ( )
  cabracrazy18 | May 14, 2014 |
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