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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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26,928166037 (4.37)4 / 1814
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. ( )
2 vote arukiyomi | Jun 19, 2012 |
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Showing 1-25 of 1554 (next | show all)
I found the writing style of this book very difficult to get into but the story is very moving and well worth the struggle. ( )
  CarolPreston | Apr 25, 2016 |
The Book thief is a beautiful representation of the lives of Germans during the Holocaust. The story is viewed through the eyes of death and so many passages include the deaths of major characters. ( )
  CPocock | Apr 21, 2016 |
Not a light book, but this period in history is not light. The Book Thief is one of the best books I've read this year, poignant, sweet, sad. If you like this, I'd recommend Elizabeth Wein's two WWII novels, Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, which are my favorites of the genre. ( )
  ajsteadman | Apr 20, 2016 |
An amazing book that I recommend to everyone. Beautifully written with a unique perspective, it doesn't let you go the whole way through. ( )
  dimitri | Apr 19, 2016 |
It is 1939, Nazi Germany. Hitler is rising to power. Death has never been so busy. Liesel Meminger is on her way to her new foster family when her younger brother dies on the journey. At his graveside her life is changed forever when she picks up an object left forgotten in the snow. It is a book, The Grave Diggers Handbook, and it her first act of book thievery though she doesn't know it at the time. With the help of her foster father Liesel soon learns to read and so begins her love of books and words and the need to obtain more.

The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger's childhood during a dark time of human history, WWII in Nazi Germany. Liesel finds herself stealing books from any place she can including a Nazi book burning and the mayor's library. Anything to feed her voracious appetite for words. The story is told with Death as the narrator which ended up being a brilliant choice. Death is exhausted by his job and the war which adds a different perspective to events. Zusak doesn't pull any punches. He gives us the reality of just how bad life is for everyone during this time, highlighting the Jews suffering with a different perspective on the Holocaust and that of the extreme poor in Germany. And yet he's managed to tell an absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking tale about the simple joys of childhood, love, courage, survival, friendship, death and grief. I feel completely in love with Liesel and her adopted family as well as the neighbor Rudy and poor Max. I was sad at the end both due to events, it is wartime, and knowing that my time with the characters was done. This is a book that's going to stay with me for a while and I'm sure to read again in the future. ( )
  Narilka | Apr 15, 2016 |
Ahora resulta que ya hasta pelicula sacaron de este libro ( )
1 vote HectorAguirre | Apr 13, 2016 |
You know a book is REALLY GOOD when it spoils the ending for you halfway through, yet holds your interest to the very end. Not that the spoilers were much a big deal, anyway, what with it being a book about WWII narrated by Death, but you know. Fantastic book! 10/10 would def recommend. ( )
  joiedeslivres | Apr 12, 2016 |
Beautiful and imaginative and creative and just...WOW! ( )
  DanaBurkey | Apr 10, 2016 |
Such a heartbreaker...
  bartt95 | Apr 10, 2016 |
Jedna predivna prica o jednoj djevojcici Lizel koja zivi u ulici Himel(Nebo), o jednom harmonikasu, jevrejskom bokseru, nacistickoj Njemackoj u doba kad padaju bombe....divna knjiga koju sam procitala za 24 sata... ( )
  ceca78 | Apr 10, 2016 |
I almost feel I shouldn't be writing this review until I've had more time to process, however then maybe it wouldn't be as honest. This book moved me more than a book has in a long time. Although fiction, this stuff really happened in our history and that makes it so much more poignant of a read. I was drawn into Liesel's world, I loved her Papa, I adored Max, I even loved Rudy. The idea of someone stealing books intrigued me from the onset, being a lover of books as I am, I could easily imagine myself in a time period where they weren't easy to come by and being tempted to do just that. But this book was about so much more than the books. It was about learning to make your own decisions and judgements not following blindly what anyone, even your government, tell you. It was about loss and the will or lack of will to go on from that. It was about honor and hope and sharing that hope with others. And above all else, for me at least, it was about learning from our past. I know I haven't done the book justice, but it's definitely a must read. ( )
  MynTop | Apr 8, 2016 |
This book is a diamond in the rough. I wish I could give this book 7 stars, it is THAT good. This is a must, buy, must read, must own. I have recommended this book to every one I know. It was a struggle to read, that is true but it was written in such an intriguing way that I couldn't quit (and I'm so glad I didn't). The only complaint I have about "The Book Thief" is it didn't need about 150 pages. The book could've gotten away with being only 350/400 pages. But I love this book and will continue to recommend it to people, I've made everyone in my family read it (or have pestered them to read it millions of times). I adore "The Book Thief" because it shows the true meaning of sacrifice, doing whats right, and what the true meaning of love is. It makes you feel things you didn't know you could feel, and makes a person's heart grow three times bigger. Yes, it will make you cry .... loads of times, but they are tears of joy, shock, pain, wonder, and pure happiness. ( )
  danaaa_99 | Apr 6, 2016 |
This book grabbed me within the first few pages. I heard "Sympathy for the Devil " playing in my head. This is a Holocaust story that gives insight to how some Germans quielty lived against Hitler's policies, and instead lived their humanity. ( )
  Lylee | Apr 3, 2016 |
This book is one that can be used in a high school classroom. You can use this book in any 9th-12th grade english class. This book can be used to link to something they may be talking about in their history class. You can have them do a little bit of research on the Holocaust and WW2 before they begin reading to help them better understand the book and what was taking place in that time period. Since this book is also a movie, you can watch the movie as a class and then have them compare and contrast the movie to the book and have them explain which one helped them to better understand the story and what elements from each helped to enhance their learning and understanding. With your class, you can also have them talk about different morals and values. Since Liesel stole books and food, you can have your students get in discussion groups and talk about questions about if they feel it was ok for her to do so or not based on what they may feel is morally right. This book has a lot of death in it, so you need to make sure that your students will be ok with reading this book.
  SarahSchuster | Apr 1, 2016 |
I am breathless... ( )
  mashiaraqcs | Mar 29, 2016 |
High interest. Written from Death's point of view was an interesting take. Gave insight into how the Germans felt about Hitler's reign. Didn't care for some of the language. ( )
  rwhit513 | Mar 29, 2016 |
Mr. Zusak is a modern day genius of the written word. He could make the telling of a worm's journey across pavement interesting. I have seen the movie and read the book. The movie can do no justice to this man's brilliance. With death as the orator I found the voice to be hauntingly true to form. I felt as if a friend I had known for years simply sat next to me and recounted a truth they had held inside them for many years.

The nuance of good and evil, morality during the height of war, young love and the story that emanates from the pen of this author must certainly be considered an instantaneous classic. Read it, absorb it and drift away into the mind of a young woman who was robbed of everything except the written word and you will find yourself nothing short of inspired. ( )
  Vincent282 | Mar 26, 2016 |
Great story about the time period (WWII) that shows how the average person was affected. ( )
  add_dragon | Mar 26, 2016 |
The story in itself was good, it was moving and it was beautiful. The writing style on the other hand, I had problems with. I really felt like this writing style is something you either love or hate, and I sure didn't love it. I actually found it pretty annoying and weird at times, but mostly distracting from beginning to end. I liked the characters, especially Rudy. Honestly if I was to rate it only based on the story I would've rated it higher but the writing style, as mentioned, really bugged me. Conclusion; not bad, not great. ( )
  zombiehero | Mar 25, 2016 |
My heart fell as I started reading, as the story starts with a pseudo-clever personification of death; self-evident statements which are separately marked in bold print (such as “Here is a small fact: You are going to die”) and frequent attempts at lightening the sombre story that is being told.
I persevered despite these reservations and finished by being moved (yes, the story may be schmaltzy, but it worked for me).
As the story states near the beginning, “It’s just a small story really, about, amongst other things: a girl; some words; an accordionist; some fanatical Germans; a Jewish fist-fighter and quite a lot of thievery.” As the story also states in one of its highlighted statements, it is a story both about the vast majority of Germans (90%) who showed unflinching support for Adolf Hitler from 1933 and the 10% who did not.
But what engages is the characters, primarily the book thief, Liesel Meminger, but also all the supporting characters.
The narrator is "Death". The background is the holocaust. The main character is a 10 year old German girl. There are other well-developed characters: her parents, her friend Rudy, and Max, the Jew they try to protect. The theme seems to be that there were some good Germans in Germany during WWII who tried to protect the Jews. The interjection of news bits reminds me of John Dos Passos. I was not bothered by this although some others might be. This may not end up being a classic like "Anne Frank" but I enjoyed it and managed to read it in one day. I really liked this book -- it was very well written, and it shows positive ways the characters overcame very difficult challenges. I can see why some people consider this book to be a classic. The characters are developed well and are very interesting, and the unusual choice of Death for the narrator also made a nice twist. The story itself is also wonderful. However, I was bothered by how much inappropriate language and profanity was in the book. I probably would have given it five stars if it had not been for the language. ( )
  kgibso11 | Mar 21, 2016 |
Cary Grant
  jmail | Mar 21, 2016 |
You will be able to read many other reviews of this book, so what can I add.
I decided to read this book with ambivalence as it has been highly praised, and I was looking for an engaging fictional story, but I had already read many books about Germany, the 1930/40s and Jews. What could this book add?
It adds a moving story about the plight of ordinary Germans immediately before and during the Second World War.

My heart fell as I started reading, as the story starts with a pseudo-clever personification of death (and like many other readers, I was immediately thinking of Pratchett’s DEATH); self-evident statements which are separately marked in bold print (such as “Here is a small fact: You are going to die”) and frequent attempts at lightening the sombre story that is being told.
I persevered despite these reservations and finished by being moved (yes, the story may be schmaltzy, but it worked for me).
As the story states near the beginning, “It’s just a small story really, about, amongst other things: a girl; some words; an accordionist; some fanatical Germans; a Jewish fist-fighter and quite a lot of thievery.” As the story also states in one of its highlighted statements, it is a story both about the vast majority of Germans (90%) who showed unflinching support for Adolf Hitler from 1933 and the 10% who did not.
But what engages is the characters, primarily the book thief, Liesel Meminger, but also all the supporting characters. I could go on to try to analyse this further; I could express further reservations of how it manipulates your emotions (and I somehow feel this is more noticeable, move evident in the structure of the story), but you should stop reading this review and go and read the Book Thief. It is worth your time.

A similar book that has made me cry, but over which I have reservations, is The White Hotel (although far more disturbing and adult in content). To be just moved, without the schmaltz, read If this is a Man. ( )
1 vote CarltonC | Mar 13, 2016 |
This book was distinctly okay. It kind of felt like it wanted to be all things to all people? I've seen it classified as young-adult, and that works, in a sense, but I also get the impression that Zusak's ambitions were somewhat more "literary" than that? And in the same breath, I feel like the writing is often even more juvenile than young-adult literature tends to be. The narrator should be interesting, but isn't. Terry Pratchett portrays Death (and death) interestingly. Zusak doesn't. Death's narration left me cold, I felt no rapport with him, despite the conversational tone he took. Similarly, all the telegraphed plot points - mainly deaths - left me with nothing left to look forward to in this book, in the sense that, if we had to have a bleak ending (which, of course, we had), then we would bloody well know what KIND of bleak ending we were going to have!

Like I said, it was okay. There were some nice scenes. But I didn't really feel anything about it and I feel like I should have. It was just so... simplistic. So black and white. I've had meatier Big Macs. ( )
  thebookmagpie | Mar 13, 2016 |
Not an upliftiing read but the author did a good job of conveying an impossible life in difficult times. ( )
  GeneHunter | Mar 13, 2016 |
This is the most descriptive and creative book I've ever read. With "Death" as the narrator and WWII as the backdrop, it is unforgettable! Curricular connections - history and creative writing ( )
  JillStephens | Mar 12, 2016 |
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