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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief (original 2005; edition 2008)

by Markus Zusak

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24,146144745 (4.38)4 / 1727
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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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. ( )
  humblewomble | Oct 19, 2014 |
great fiction book for 5th grade independent reading ( )
  blev | Oct 19, 2014 |
A well-told story is a well-told story, regardless of forum in which it appears. The old adage about reading the book instead seeing the movie overlooks the possibility of a story more fitted for the screen than the page. And some stories are suited better for the internal imagination than for projected images. Marcus Zusak’s [The Book Thief] was so well-adapted from book to movie that you can really choose your poison, as neither the film nor the book offer any significant improvements – it’s just a well-told story.

[The Book Thief] – the book – is Death’s own musings about, well, life. He is enchanted by Liesel, a young German girl, the first time he sees her. It is the day that he scoops up the soul of her younger brother from a train car. Liesel and her mother watch the boy as he is buried in the frozen ground, and the girl pockets a copy of a gravedigger’s handbook from the scene, the first of several purloined books. She is deposited with a foster couple, the wife a vulgar, if secretly tender, curmudgeon and the husband a genuinely sweet soul. Death watches her grow as he struggles to keep up with World War II’s body count.

Certainly, a book told from Death’s perspective is unique, but Zusak is at his best when he forgets the affectation of speaking through the Reaper. Maybe the seeds of the story didn’t strike him as the kind that would garner the attention necessary for publication. Maybe he didn’t feel comfortable telling the story through the eyes of a 12-year-old German girl from a century long gone. Or maybe he had just always wanted to try thinking like Death. Whatever the reason, the parts of the book that feel forced are those passages when Death interrupts with wisdom born of corpses. Otherwise, Liesel is quite capable of providing her own insight into the brutal workings of the world and the conflicted souls of those around her.

Perhaps, that is why [The Book Thief] – the movie – was so evocative and powerful. While the movie maintains the Death origin, it is far less concerned with Death’s work or perspective, choosing instead to focus on the girl once the introductions are made and returning to him only in the end. The rest of Liesel’s story is rendered in the movie through her eyes, allowing for the raw nerves to be exposed more completely and without interruption.

So, what’s the answer – the book or the movie? For this one, I’d answer either because the story is wonderfully rendered in either milieu. The book offers a bit of a forced technique and a few forced metaphors, but is otherwise well written. The movie renders the story in its raw form, but without the benefit of the subtleties that can only be featured on the page.

Ultimately, with [The Book Thief], Zusak declares himself as a good story-teller – he just needs to forget himself a little more to become a better writer.

Bottom Line: A good story, either on the page or on the screen.

4 bones!!!!! ( )
1 vote blackdogbooks | Oct 18, 2014 |
Grades 10th-12th—The depictions of Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and World War II reach new heights in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Death as the narrator of this historical fiction novel places an interesting twist on the story of Liesel Meminger and her life as a book thief. While visiting her brother’s graveside one day, Liesel discovers a book half-buried in the snow—The Grave Digger’s Handbook. After stealing this book, she embarks on a journey of book thievery, fueling her never-ending love for books and words. Liesel’s life, however, turns both upside down and inside out when her family agrees to hide a Jew in their basement. Although the novel’s mood emits an aura of sadness and despair at times, readers will find several laughable moments, too, and readers become instantly attached in multiple ways to Liesel because of her unfortunate circumstances.

Readers will plummet into a moderate-paced, adventure-filled novel while traveling alongside Liesel as she steals books from the mayor’s wife’s library, Nazi book burnings, and other risky venues. Beautifully written and easily accessible to high school students, this book deserves a place on the bookshelves in school libraries around the world—next to other top-rated books of its kind. Also, The Book Thief will certainly be taught in classrooms for many years. Zusak’s writing, which is full of literal and figurative language, explodes with intensity and a sincere honesty—providing readers with a most realistic, although fictional account of Nazi Germany and those horrific events that are most often associated with this particular place and time. ( )
  Amanda_Woodruff | Oct 13, 2014 |
Excellent book focusing on life of Liesel, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany.near Munich. Very moving book narrated by Death. ( )
  cbinstead | Oct 12, 2014 |
First and foremost, big props to the narrator of this audiobook, Allan Corduner, whose performance was right on target with all the voices and accents. I bumped up my rating of the book just for that. It was one of those audiobooks with a combination of compelling story and riveting narration that makes you want to get in your car and drive and drive just so you can listen some more.

Narrated by Death himself, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl living in Nazi Germany with her foster family and a hidden Jew in the basement during the early years of World War II. Liesel is obsessed with reading and with books, which sometimes seem to be the only comfort in a crazy world. She reads them. She writes them. She steals them. She gifts them. She receives them.

As I read this book, I couldn't quit thinking about Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi, which I read many years ago. Both are stories of what life was like for the every day German during the war--not the soldier, not the Nazi, but the regular guy who just wants life to be normal. Initially for Liesel her life is not much different than usual, but when her family takes in a dispossessed Jew who has a backstory with her family, that all changes.

When I finished listening to the last of the book, I wanted things to end a little tidier, a little happier, but why should books be different from real life? This is a really great audiobook and one I highly recommend! ( )
  spounds | Sep 30, 2014 |
{4.9 stars, only because I was little put off by the narrative style at first}

Dear Markus Zusak-I love you and I loathe you. I don't even know how I'm going to handle the movie. ;.;

Dear Liesel, I wish there were words I could give you to hold you through your next years after Himmel Street. I wish I could hold you and be your book thieving side-kick. I wish you could see that not all of the world is loss and pain.

There are so many things that I want to say to all of you: Hans, Rosa, Max, and dear Rudy. I just cannot find the words, as all of you did. Even Death. I wish you didn't have to bear and witness so much. Even you suffer. All humans have hearts, and sometimes the worst of circumstances brushes the dust off of others that were hidden, or hardens others, keeping them on the shelf. This book did both, in a different way. I smiled and laughed, and you broke my heart and handed it to me, never patching it up---and sometimes that's OK. It lets us know we are human--in my opinion--unlike the Furher. We have hearts that can be broken, even by deaths of these fictional characters, and even if it isn't this book, we can always mend it again with another. Mend it with words like Leisel. This book is certainly a downer, but it's also a thinking book, it's a changing your perspective, carpe diem book. I would say that none of you deserved what happened, but than we are taking reality for granted. This actually happened to families. Some survived, many didn't. Zusak, you snatched up so many lives, you and Death, and while by the end, my heart sagged with sorrow and my eyes hurt with unshed tears, I understand you had to do it. Though through my tears now I cannot find a logical reason, there has to be one.

By the last 20 pgs read at 6:30 am, I cannot control the weeping, and an hour later I still can't. I keep telling myself, they're not real, they're not real, but for a week, I ate pea soup with Liesel, Hans, Rosa, and eventually Max. They became my temporary family where to be honest, I always feel a little emptiness. I heard Hans accordion and felt the mud on my face as I tossed Liesel the football. I even felt the whip. It hurt so bad, and you might think I'm silly, that it's just a book. It's not, at least to me. Words are my home, and for them to crush me and bury me under roses with the fictional family I just lost that I had placed there--many books have stirred my feelings, such as Jane Eyre. Many books have made me feel out of reality, feel connection, feel emotions, for days and weeks--but never ever like The Book Thief. ( )
  ShyPageSniffer | Sep 29, 2014 |
This book will make you cry. The author, Markus Zusak has an incredible voice. I couldn't put it down! ( )
  Nancy_Golinski | Sep 27, 2014 |
This novel is a beautifully written account of WWII as experienced in a small town in Germany by ordinary citizens. Markus Zusak has a unique, lyrical style that captures emotions in the people, in the sky, in the physical environment surrounding these Germans, who are caught in a war with a leader and daily struggles that they can not comprehend. Zusak's metaphors are unusual and somehow very beautiful.

An example: "In Liesel's mind, the moon was sewn into the sky that night. Clouds were stitched around it."

Death, the narrator, is a hardworking spirit with the compassion to stop and view the humans who are faced with daily choices that determine their health and survival. His focus is on Liesel, a child being fostered by a poor couple in a town outside Munich after her mother gives up trying to care for her. Liesel becomes obsessed with books, stealing them, reading them and ultimately writing one that Death cherishes and uses to tell her story. The story intersects with the Holocaust but is not overwhelmed by it. The descriptions of relationships between the people of this small town are perfect in their understanding of what contributes to the essence of being human. I don't have the writing skills to describe how beautiful this book is but I will cherish the time I spent reading it. ( )
  krazy4katz | Sep 26, 2014 |
This was a good read, not earth-shattering, but enjoyable. It might make my re-read shelf at some point, but I am hesitant to give it five stars. If you enjoy historical fiction set during WWII with an interesting twist, I highly recommend. I'm disappointed with the lack of follow up on Max though. ( )
  autumnturner76 | Sep 22, 2014 |
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 |
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