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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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25,060151444 (4.37)4 / 1764
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 1421 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  AdrienneJS | May 18, 2015 |
This would be a good book to use when talking about the Holocaust. I think students would like this book because of the unusual narrator. ( )
  Kate_Schulte078 | May 4, 2015 |
Summary:Death narrates the story of Liesel who is young and already suffering from the death of her brother and the separation from her mother. She goes to live with another family but is ridiculed in school when she can not read. Her new family teachers her how to read and for a while she is happy. Then, the Nazis begin to have a greater presence and Liesel realizes that Hitler is an evil man and is responsible for so much suffering. Liesel tries to help those who are being persecuted against, while staying educated and keeping her own story alive.

Personal connection: This book is all about the Holocaust so naturally I feel a personally connection to it because I am Jewish. I actually cried while reading, as this was a very well written and emotional book.

Class use: Use this book to teach students about WWII and more specifically, the Holocaust. ( )
  allisonpollack | Apr 30, 2015 |
This one really deserves 5 stars. One of my all-time favorites! ( )
  KR_Patterson | Apr 28, 2015 |
I could not find an entry into empathy with the characters. Felt too sterile.
1 vote 2wonderY | Apr 21, 2015 |
There are some books that are so special and thought-provoking you just want to keep them a secret, as little treats to think about and ponder over. If I had to describe The Book Thief in one word, it would be MAGICAL, but alongside magical, there is also tender, compassionate, kind-hearted, forgiving and authentic, and above all wise.

It reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird with its children wise beyond their years and their moral compass that will make most adults embarrassed. The essence of children like Scout and Liesel is their immediacy - they do not wait, they do not accept excuses and they do not believe lies. They are also determined and fearless and it is truly fascinating to see them grow.

Markus Zusak is a very powerful storyteller who was able to breathe life into Death itself, creating an intriguing and thought-provoking narrator.

This story is slow-paced in the best possible way. The narrator gives away all the major events very early in the book, which makes it obvious that the point is not the ending, but the journey - emotions stirred, intelligent thoughts provoked, heartstrings tugged. ( )
1 vote v_allery | Apr 19, 2015 |
Probably the most incredible book I have read! ( )
  DF | Apr 8, 2015 |
What an outstanding book! You came to feel for the characters quickly, and get drawn into the story line. Humanity in a horrible timeframe. Not a story you will soon forget! ( )
1 vote bearlyr | Apr 7, 2015 |
I just finished this book. It is in my top 3 of books read in 2013, so far. I loved the way the author wrote this; extremely creative. I plan to read it again in the future,but on Audible next time. There is a lot to digest and ponder in the book and there is a lot of symbolism and themes. The author is a creative genius and I want to check out his other books. I did not find it too long or wordy, as some of my friends did; I thought it was just right! But I do wish I knew what happened to Max after the war. I'd love to read a sequel! ( )
1 vote sandra.k.heinzman | Apr 2, 2015 |
I just finished this book. It is in my top 3 of books read in 2013, so far. I loved the way the author wrote this; extremely creative. I plan to read it again in the future,but on Audible next time. There is a lot to digest and ponder in the book and there is a lot of symbolism and themes. The author is a creative genius and I want to check out his other books. I did not find it too long or wordy, as some of my friends did; I thought it was just right! But I do wish I knew what happened to Max after the war. I'd love to read a sequel! ( )
  sandra.k.heinzman | Apr 2, 2015 |
I just finished this book. It is in my top 3 of books read in 2013, so far. I loved the way the author wrote this; extremely creative. I plan to read it again in the future,but on Audible next time. There is a lot to digest and ponder in the book and there is a lot of symbolism and themes. The author is a creative genius and I want to check out his other books. I did not find it too long or wordy, as some of my friends did; I thought it was just right! But I do wish I knew what happened to Max after the war. I'd love to read a sequel! ( )
  sandra.k.heinzman | Apr 2, 2015 |
I just finished this book. It is in my top 3 of books read in 2013, so far. I loved the way the author wrote this; extremely creative. I plan to read it again in the future,but on Audible next time. There is a lot to digest and ponder in the book and there is a lot of symbolism and themes. The author is a creative genius and I want to check out his other books. I did not find it too long or wordy, as some of my friends did; I thought it was just right! But I do wish I knew what happened to Max after the war. I'd love to read a sequel! ( )
  sandra.k.heinzman | Apr 2, 2015 |
I just finished this book. It is in my top 3 of books read in 2013, so far. I loved the way the author wrote this; extremely creative. I plan to read it again in the future,but on Audible next time. There is a lot to digest and ponder in the book and there is a lot of symbolism and themes. The author is a creative genius and I want to check out his other books. I did not find it too long or wordy, as some of my friends did; I thought it was just right! But I do wish I knew what happened to Max after the war. I'd love to read a sequel! ( )
  sandra.k.heinzman | Apr 2, 2015 |
I just finished this book. It is in my top 3 of books read in 2013, so far. I loved the way the author wrote this; extremely creative. I plan to read it again in the future,but on Audible next time. There is a lot to digest and ponder in the book and there is a lot of symbolism and themes. The author is a creative genius and I want to check out his other books. I did not find it too long or wordy, as some of my friends did; I thought it was just right! But I do wish I knew what happened to Max after the war. I'd love to read a sequel! ( )
  sandra.k.heinzman | Apr 2, 2015 |
I just finished this book. It is in my top 3 of books read in 2013, so far. I loved the way the author wrote this; extremely creative. I plan to read it again in the future,but on Audible next time. There is a lot to digest and ponder in the book and there is a lot of symbolism and themes. The author is a creative genius and I want to check out his other books. I did not find it too long or wordy, as some of my friends did; I thought it was just right! But I do wish I knew what happened to Max after the war. I'd love to read a sequel! ( )
  sandra.k.heinzman | Apr 2, 2015 |
This is one of my all time favourite books ever. I can't say for what specific reason but it just captured my attention from the start and held it throughout.
It's a novel interpretation of the Second World War and the Holocaust and Nazi Germany and it works incredibly well. The protagonist is a young girl, the narrator of the story is Death. Sounds like a weird mix but it just works.
The book makes you think beyond the normal horror stories of the Holocaust and the other atrocities which occurred during the war, on both sides of the conflict. It takes you into another world, one in which the power of reading is central to the small bit of enjoyment our titular heroine, The Book Thief Lisel, is able to grasp from the poverty of her life.
It's difficult to go into any details without spoiling the thrill of reading it but I will just say this book should make you laugh, it will make you cry but, more than anything, it should lift your heart at the wonderful way that words can be used.
Zusak is a master and this book is a triumph. ( )
1 vote Cadiva | Apr 1, 2015 |
This is one of my all time favourite books ever. I can't say for what specific reason but it just captured my attention from the start and held it throughout.
It's a novel interpretation of the Second World War and the Holocaust and Nazi Germany and it works incredibly well. The protagonist is a young girl, the narrator of the story is Death. Sounds like a weird mix but it just works.
The book makes you think beyond the normal horror stories of the Holocaust and the other atrocities which occurred during the war, on both sides of the conflict. It takes you into another world, one in which the power of reading is central to the small bit of enjoyment our titular heroine, The Book Thief Lisel, is able to grasp from the poverty of her life.
It's difficult to go into any details without spoiling the thrill of reading it but I will just say this book should make you laugh, it will make you cry but, more than anything, it should lift your heart at the wonderful way that words can be used.
Zusak is a master and this book is a triumph. ( )
  Cadiva | Apr 1, 2015 |
This is one of my all time favourite books ever. I can't say for what specific reason but it just captured my attention from the start and held it throughout.
It's a novel interpretation of the Second World War and the Holocaust and Nazi Germany and it works incredibly well. The protagonist is a young girl, the narrator of the story is Death. Sounds like a weird mix but it just works.
The book makes you think beyond the normal horror stories of the Holocaust and the other atrocities which occurred during the war, on both sides of the conflict. It takes you into another world, one in which the power of reading is central to the small bit of enjoyment our titular heroine, The Book Thief Lisel, is able to grasp from the poverty of her life.
It's difficult to go into any details without spoiling the thrill of reading it but I will just say this book should make you laugh, it will make you cry but, more than anything, it should lift your heart at the wonderful way that words can be used.
Zusak is a master and this book is a triumph. ( )
  Cadiva | Apr 1, 2015 |
The Book Thief was quite a weird book for me to read not because it isn't something I usually read. But because although I absolutely loved it, I really struggled to get into it and at times I couldn't be bothered to read it. Hence why it has taken me slightly longer to get through it.

In basic terms, The Book Thief is about the life of a young German girl and her family and friends during World War II. The book begins with Liesel being sent to live with a foster family: Hans and Rosa Hubermann. She is a young girl of 10 years old and doesn't understand why her mother is sending her away. She has also been left traumatised by her younger brothers death during the journey and has nightmares for months afterwards.

The Book Thief is narrated by Death and Zusak has done an amazing job in turning death into a character. Death is probably one of my favourite characters in the book just because of his unique way of telling Liesels story and his descriptions are brilliant. Death describes all the characters in a way that makes them feel real to the reader and also makes you truly feel for them. However, The Book Thief is not a story that keeps you guessing as Death has a tendency to give away spoilers many chapters before the events happen, even at the start of the book. So you always have a vague idea of what will happen but it is a great story regardless.

The Book Thief is a book that had me smiling in parts as well as being in tears in others. This is mainly due to how much you as a reader end up caring for Liesel and her family and friends, including Hans, Max and Rudy. Liesel goes through so such a short period of her life and it goes to show just how the war affected not only the soldiers but those left at home, especially the children.

Overall, I gave The Book Thief 4/5. Mainly because though I loved the story, I did struggle to even pick up the book at times. But that could just be everything else in my life affecting my reading as I have had a lot going on at the moment. So I may feel differently and give it a 5 if I ever read The Book Thief again (which I probably will). ( )
1 vote MyExpandingBookshelf | Mar 30, 2015 |
Michael L. Printz Honor Award. RGG: Amazing story with Death as the narrator about a German family's survival during World War II. The story includes their hiding of a Jewish man. The tone of irony just increases the sorrow and horror.
1 vote rgruberhighschool | Mar 28, 2015 |
This a book that warms your heart and then breaks it in turns. Liesle, Rudy, Max and Hans are characters that come to life and you quickly become attached to, only to watch the heartbreak of Nazi Germany through their eyes. The language and style make this an easy read - but the depth of the subject matter forces you to put the book down frequently in order to emotionally regroup. I was concerned at first, the the choice of narrator would be cheesy, but it adds a layer to this book that you couldn't get any other way. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote BeckyGraham1016 | Mar 27, 2015 |
Summary:
Liesel is a nine year old girl from Germany. Her mother sent her and her brother to live with a couple, Hans and Rosa in Molching. On the way there, her brother died and Liesel has nightmares about him for a while. However, Hans comforted her and taught her how to read. At book burning she figures out that her dad was persecuted because he was a communist and her mother was probably killed by Nazis for the same reason. Later, Hans hides a Jew names Max in the basement. max and Liesel become very good friends. But Hans was seen giving bread to a Jew who was going to a concentration camp, so Max could no longer stay with Hans.Hans was drafted into the military and the next time Liesel sees Max, he is on his way to a concentration camp. Leisal had given up hope but later is encouraged to write her life story.

Personal Reaction:
I knew there was a movie based on this book. For some reason I thought this was more of a fantasy kind of story before reading. So this was quite a surprise. I can't imagine being in Liesel's shoes and being her age during all of this.

Classroom Extension Ideas:
1 vote Megan_Livsey | Mar 25, 2015 |
I am truly on the fence regarding The Book Thief. It was a struggle to get through because I did not like Death's voice as the narrator, but I enjoyed the historical aspects (not your typical WWII portrayal) and several of the characters.

Additionally, although this book is widely considered to be a Young Adult novel, I cannot say that I agree. Despite featuring a young protagonist who is struggling to come of age during a difficult time in history, I cannot see the universality of Liesel's position or its appeal through the eyes of YA audiences. ( )
1 vote Debra_Armbruster | Mar 22, 2015 |
One of the best books I have ever read. If you can read one book this year - let it be this one. ( )
1 vote kimtaylorblakemore | Mar 17, 2015 |
One of the best books I have ever read. If you can read one book this year - let it be this one. ( )
  kimtaylorblakemore | Mar 17, 2015 |
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