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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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26,496162039 (4.37)4 / 1802
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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From first to last, superb. I was constantly surprised at how enjoyable and amusing a book about WWII era Germany, narrated by no less a figure than the grim reaper himself (revealed in fact to be an often amusing and always compassionate reaper), could be. No punches are pulled, but nevertheless this journey through the lives of a group of ordinary Germans caught up in horrific circumstances is an absolute delight in all possible ways. ( )
  Vivl | Feb 13, 2016 |
The story follows Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich in WWII Germany. I really liked this book. It was a very well done book. I recommend this to lovers of Historical Fiction. ( )
  DoctorNerd | Feb 12, 2016 |
4**** and a ❤

A very different take on WW II and Germany. Liesel Meminger is a foster child being raised by the very kind Hans Huberman and his verbally abrasive wife, Rosa. Liesel deals with her loss by stealing books; the first one before she can read. The allegorical story is narrated by Death.

I had heard a lot of buzz about this book when it first came out, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. When a member recommended for book club, I waited to read it for the discussion.

It’s a long book (550 pgs) but the chapters are short and the layout makes it a fast read. It was originally marketed as a young adult book, and certainly I can see how it would fit that genre. But the themes are much grander and lend themselves well to discussion.

The entire story is narrated by Death.. Liesel is nearly 10 when the book opens, but she’s never been to school, so cannot read. Her mother is taking her and her younger brother to another city where they’ll live with a foster family. But Werner dies enroute (on the first page, practically) and her mother is devastated, as is Liesel. It is at her brother’s funeral that Death first takes notice of the girl. And it is here that Liesel begins her “career” as the book thief. She spies a slim volume, dropped by one of the grave diggers, and picks it up. When she arrives at the Huberman’s home she is still clutching this treasure, which she hides under her mattress.
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****** MORE DETAILS BELOW - POSSIBLE SPOILER ******

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Rosa Huberman is a gruff, German housewife, with nary a kind word for anyone (though she will prove herself to be a kind woman as the story progresses). Hans Huberman is a gentle man, exuding strength of character and a calmness that helps soothe Liesel’s damaged heart. It is Hans who coaxes Liesel to take her first bath, who calms her each night when she wakes from a nightmare, who teaches her to read (using the “Grave Diggers Handbook” as her first primer). It is Hans, also, who saves Max Vandenburg, by keeping a promise he made to Max’s father (who had saved Hans’ life in WW I). And it is Max who opens Liesel’s heart and mind to what is happening around her.

Of course there are many other memorable characters: Rudy Steiner (next-door-neighbor, best friend, star athlete), Frau Herman (the mayor’s wife, who cannot seem to recover from the loss of her son, but who allows Liesel to “steal” books from her library), Frau Holtzapfel (next door neighbor), and, of course, the Fuhrer himself. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 11, 2016 |
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
552 pages

★★★★★ ♥

This is a book I’ve had for awhile and most of my friends have rated it quite highly and after reading it? I’m left to wonder why I waited so long to read this amazing novel! For starters this book finally got me out of my two month reading slump, so yay! Secondly, I found it to be on those books that once I was done with it, I just laid it down in front of me and took a bit to try to absorb it all. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started it (I try, under most circumstances, to stay away from too many reviews as it tends to taint my views before I even start), barely knew what it was about, but what an absolute treat. I feel like I can’t give it the proper review it deserves.

One thing that struck me first off? The narrator. The fact that Death was the narrator throughout was brilliant. The tone left by Death is haunting and beautiful. I highly doubt it would have been half as good told from a different vantage point. I thought the characters were really well done. There wasn’t a character I didn’t like, even the secondary seemed so real. I gobbled up this book, one of those stories that left me up well past my normal sleep time and me saying “just one more chapter…”

I know not everyone enjoyed it as much as I but I definitely think it is worth the read. If for some reason, like me, you haven’t gotten to this book sooner – do it…do it now.

*note: I saw the recently made movie on this book. Just…no. I think there was far too much in this book to encompass in the movie and in my opinion they butchered some vital parts and characters.*
( )
  UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
I've been reading a lot of duds lately, so I pulled out this book again, knowing that it, at least, would be a truly worthwhile read. My sister said something about how I was brave to put myself through this book again, which took me by surprise. Yeah, this book is sad, but it is so powerful. It's the most powerful story about the opposing sides of humanity I have ever read.

And Rudy. Death said it best: "He does something to me, that boy. Every time. . . . He steps on my heart. He makes me cry" (531).

But you can bet I'll be reading this book—with its beautiful words, beautiful people, and beautiful colors—again. ( )
  AngelClaw | Feb 8, 2016 |
Oh, wow. Markus Zusak is two for two with beautiful, beautiful books.
  mirikayla | Feb 8, 2016 |
Very unique narration, and of a time and circumstance not previously explored. ( )
  thukpa | Feb 5, 2016 |
I can see why The Book Thief was such a big hit; no book has ever looked more at home on a Waterstones table display. Both the setting and the theme of literary escape are pretty familiar in literary fiction, and it gets overwrought in a populist sort of way at times...

But a lot of my complaints are the results of familiarity breeding contempt, which is unfair when the novel's actually very well written and the use of Death as the narrator sets it apart. It allows the story to be placed in the context of the horrific death toll of the war. With people regularly shuffling out of Liesel's life and the bombings coming ever closer, there's a feeling of the whole world coming to an end. If you've seen pictures of Berlin after its fall in 1945, it's easy to believe that's exactly what happened. ( )
  m_k_m | Feb 5, 2016 |
Despite all the raving reviews on here, on Amazon, and elsewhere, I simply could not get into this story. The style of writing is a bit different and might need getting used to, but I got to page 200 or so, and still didn't feel in pulled in by the story. It's not that I disliked it, but I just didn't feel for the characters or the setting in Nazi Germany. Disappointing.
(I have not given the book any star rating, because I didn't finish it)
1 vote TallArnie | Feb 4, 2016 |
Narrated by Allan Corduner. Devastating, to the heart! Took me awhile to get into this but in the end it snuck up on me and was a satisfying, emotional and fulfilling story. Death himself narrates this story of Liesel Meminger, who, after her brother's death, becomes the foster child of Hans and Rosa Hooberman and lives with them in a small town outside Munich during Hitler's reign. It was at her brother's funeral that she stole a book, a gravedigger's manual. This is the beginning of several books she steals to fulfill her hunger for words, including from a Nazi book-burning and the mayor's wife's library. Max, the Jewish man Hans is hiding in the basement shares Liesel's love of reading and they form a special bond. As Death observes, this is a novel about humanity, beautiful and ugly, loving and evil, all at once. ( )
1 vote Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
I had a difficult time getting into this book. It struck some chord within me that made me reluctant to go on. A woman in my book club encouraged me to "just go a little further" (I had only read approximately 20 pages,) took her suggestion and found myself thinking about the book when it wasn't in my hands and unable to put it down when it was. Bravo to Mr.Zusak. ( )
1 vote LouisaK | Feb 2, 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. ( )
1 vote thebookmagpie | Jan 30, 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. ( )
1 vote hoegbottom | Jan 30, 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. ( )
1 vote hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
The saddest book I've ever read, but it was very good. Markus Zusak is an AMAZING author. The way he writes is exceptional. ( )
1 vote babydogfish | Jan 29, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote jerry-book | Jan 26, 2016 |
Liked the narrative style a lot especially the fact that the book is narrated by Death :-). Some typical storytelling mechanism have been totally turned around like letting the reader know the climax upfront and then taking the readers to that same climax. ( )
1 vote _RSK | Jan 26, 2016 |
This is my favorite book ever! Marcus Zusak's writing is amazing! ( )
1 vote Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
This is my favorite book ever! Marcus Zusak's writing is amazing! ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
I saw the movie then listened to the book. Preferred the movie by a long shot. I found it difficult to listen to, and follow, this book because it was narrated by "Death". The reader would read Death's "thoughts" in a tone which was difficult to understand and hear. Movies being movies and books being books, I found there were larger gaps between "that was in the movie" moments. ( )
  DCarlin | Jan 22, 2016 |
The Book Thief is a story about a girl named Liesel. It is narrated by Death, which is interesting. She is traveling to a new house near Berlin when her brother dies. She goes to his funeral and steals The Grave Diggers Handbook. She struggles in school because she cannot read, so her father teaches her. They house a Jew, Max, in their new house, which is very dangerous. Soon they take away Liesls father for giving bread to a Jewish man, and she is left alone. She begins writing a book about her life, called The Book Thief. When her street is bombed, she drops her book, and Death comes behind her and picks it up. As the novel comes to a close, we learn that Liesel has died after living a long and happy life with a husband, kids, and grand kids. Then we learn Max survived the concentration camp, and he and Liesel reunited at the end of World War II. But, we don't know what happens to Max after that. The novel ends with Death giving Liesel back her book, The Book Thief, as he's taking her soul away from her body.

I gave this book four out of five stars. I liked that it was narrated by death. It is hard to think what it would be like to live in those place during that time period. Liesel had to risk everything just to try and protect one man. Her father was taken away, and it showed her how bad her situation was. I did not give it five stars because I felt it was dragged out at points. Some things that could have been explained in a paragraph took multiple pages. ( )
  IsaacS.B4 | Jan 22, 2016 |
Very nicely written. This is Markus Zusak's magical work!!! ( )
  Bipin_Banavalikar | Jan 22, 2016 |
I enjoyed the first half of the book, but I struggled to get through the remaining half because it was so dull and rather boring. Knowing German helped throughout. ( )
1 vote dewbertb | Jan 21, 2016 |
There are certain books that you have to get to the end of to fully appreciate and the Book Thief is one of those books. Sometimes when you start a book you have difficulty reading it and you want to put it to the side and say forget it unfortunately I didn't have that option as this is a book I have to discuss for a course I am in this semester, so I stuck it out. I am glad I did. This book has an emotional depth that I simply was not expecting.

The book revolves around a little girl named Liesel and the fact that she continues throughout her life to steal books to read. She also just happens to be growing up during the Holocaust and World War II. This makes the backbone of this story. We see her develop friendships with all those around her and we see what that ultimately does to her by the end of the book.

Zusak has created a story that has so many interesting layers about it. Death is ever present, which really grounds the book in the reality of the era. The story is written in a way that at first is a bit jarring for the reader, but once you get used to it it feels like a familiar song. One that you wish you didn't have to step away from, but by the end you are so happy it is over because of the feeling it gives you bring tears to your eyes. The Book Thief is a book that everyone should read to gain perspective about a different time period, but also about what it means to be alive. Zusak truly has created a gem here. ( )
1 vote SoulFlower1981 | Jan 20, 2016 |
I'm giving this four stars because I think this is a good book for a young adult. As an adult reader it's not my idea of a perfect book. However what I did like about it was that it was written from the perspective of Death and the relationship between Liesel and Papa was touching. Liesel's relationship with Rudy was sweet and with Max somewhat lacking in depth, sorry. The relationship I thought was the best was the one Liesel had with Ilsa, the Mayor's wife. That being said, I think the story was watered down and could have had more impact. ( )
1 vote Judy_Ryfinski | Jan 20, 2016 |
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