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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief (original 2005; edition 2008)

by Markus Zusak

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25,501154544 (4.37)4 / 1777
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 1451 (next | show all)
I wanted to like this book. I tried to like this book. The way Markus Zusak crafts a sentence is pure poetry. The prologue drew me in immediately, and if he had continued like this I would have been captivated and unable to put down the book until the last page. All nearly 600 of them. Unfortunately, what began as a captivating narrative switched to a mishmash of anecdotes that I gave up on after 80 pages. Twenty of those pages alone (at least) were dedicated to making sure the reader understood that Liesel's foster father was kind if somewhat absent and that her foster mother yelled at everyone. (I pretty much got that after one or two of the mini-stories. Didn't need the whole 20 pages.) Then, page 50 or so, we started in on the supporting characters. Still no plot.

I discovered something about myself. I love a well-crafted sentence. Cherish it,even. Recognize that it deserves to be read aloud to the point that I move my lips even while I read silently to give it the honor it deserves. But I love a well-crafted story above all else. If you haven't given me the beginnings of a plot that I can latch onto by page 50, I'm done.

It pains me - honestly - that I couldn't hang in there with Mr. Zusak if for no other reason than that his sentences were so well-written, his words so beautifully selected and woven together. To quote Emily Dickinson... "Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me."

Mainly because I just quit reading. ( )
  MeezCarrie | Aug 31, 2015 |
Poignant, touching look into the lives of Jewish-sympathetic Germans living in the heart of the Natzi regime during WWII. This story was written so beautifully. He showed me the colors of the emotion, and didn't just tell me what they were. Highly recommended. ( )
  KirSio | Aug 31, 2015 |
I am very disappointed. Heard so much about this book I was looking forward to a lovely evenings reading The Book Thief, but... it was boring :/ I gave up after 160 pages (I know, usually don't go that far if I don't like the book, but I was hoping...), decided it's waste of time, as there is so many other books waiting for me. ( )
  Lolanta | Aug 28, 2015 |
Dropped at 10% because I have read too many other overrated books, waiting for them to deliver on the hype.

Death as narrator is phony and pointless. The "experimental prose" style with inserts breaks the immersion and does not add value. At 10% in, I could still not find anything interesting in the setting, plot (?), or characters.

The book may be interesting for literary studies, but not good for reading. ( )
  valdanylchuk | Aug 26, 2015 |
How can I say any more than others have said. IT WAS WONDERFUL! I may have to buy this book because I want to own a copy, even though I have already read it. Like many others who have already reviewed it, I cried so hard. In fact, writing this review brings back tears that have been dried for many hours. The language was so beautiful. I have always believed that words have such great power and this book is one of the most powerful. Read it! I am sure I will read it again. ( )
  TheresaCIncinnati | Aug 17, 2015 |
This book is among my favorite young adult books. There were so many lovable characters in this book, and so many beautiful moments. I finished this book last night, and I missed the characters all night, I went to sleep thinking about them, and I even dreamed about them.

The narrartive style of the story is amazing, and the writing style kept me interested the whole time. The story takes place in Nazi Germany, so obviously there are tons of extremely heartbreaking moments. I shed so many tears while reading, both tears of joy and beauty, and tears of complete despair.

I think the author sums it up on the last page of the book, (not a spoiler), "I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words so damning and brilliant." That is pretty much sums up what the book was for me, ugly and glorious, damning and brilliant.

I would recommend this book to everyone, especially fans of young adult Holocaust literature. ( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
I decided to re-review this and explain more why I disliked it.
I study Holocaust history in school and have a very hard time reading it as fiction because I find it never does a good job. That being said, it's not why I didn't like the book. The narrater was really annoying. There was little to no plot, and what plot we had was very dull and very boring. Nothing happened in the half of the book I read. I waited for a big plot thing or something interesting but nothing happened at all. ( )
1 vote thatgirlbookworm | Aug 5, 2015 |
This is a great entry in if you liked the movie, you should read the book. At first the length may seem daunting, but it moves quickly and reads well. In fact, it is a great work for when you are stranded on a cruise ship in Wittenberg. The plot centers around a young German girl who is so fascinated by books that she learns to read and begins stealing books (no, I'm not giving anything away. This is evident from the first words of the book - indeed, the title). As World War II begins around her, her connections with a young Jewish man on the run and a young apple thief in her class weave together to create a fascinating story, narrated by Death himself (who finds the usual image of scythe and black cape amusing). Touching, tragic, funny, and inspiring all in one. Not one to be missed. ( )
1 vote quantum_flapdoodle | Aug 1, 2015 |
I read this for a book group, and we had a great discussion about it. But I was definitely in the minority. I wasn't as enamored of it as the others. I was moved by the story, and it will definitely stay with me, but there were stretches that dragged, and other parts felt repetitive. Given the reactions of the others in the book group, I wonder if I was missing something. ( )
  louis.arata | Jul 31, 2015 |
As a high school English teacher, I’m surrounded by young adult literature more than I’d like to be. The common themes and subjects of the genre don’t appeal to me (even though it is incredibly broad), and I witness so many teen romances play out in my classroom that reading about them on the page doesn’t really evoke the same kind of passion as it does for my students.

This is why The Book Thief was such a pleasant surprise. Not only does it break the mold of the young adult genre- it holds its own among the greater world of novels. Nearly every character presents complexity and realism, and the unique choice of narrator offers a completely original take on a moment in history with which most readers will be familiar. Zusak has also created a female protagonist in whom all readers will find an echo of themselves. Sometimes it’s difficult for young men to connect with a female lead in a novel (although routinely women are expected to connect with male characters), but The Book Thief will offer them no such challenge. Also refreshing are the variety of personalities in Liesel’s life: from her haunting brother to her foul-mouthed foster mother to her beautifully broken benefactor Ilsa Hermann. This is where the heart of the novel lives, and even before the arrival of Max into the Hubermann home, Zusak enthralls readers with a snapshot of a small German neighborhood.

Set against the backdrop of WWII Germany, the novel offers a little something for everyone. History buffs may attach themselves to the battles and bombings, while avid readers might want to discover the books Liesel grabs for herself. On top of this, the stories of these characters emerge in a riveting style. While Zusak’s prose employs an abundance of metaphors and imagery, it’s never flowery or overdone. Instead, the readers find themselves in Max’s place, allowing someone to build for them a world which they will never see. It is a world in which anyone would feel at home, and The Book Thief is a novel with universal appeal. Do yourself (and Liesel) a favor and read it. ( )
  porcupineracetrack | Jul 24, 2015 |
I don't think you comprehend how enchanting this story is. The concept of Death as a living being, who is worn out and tired is brilliant and unheard of. When we think of death as a being, we think of someone who seeks satisfaction through his work. That is not the case in the story. Death to me was, as weird as it is to admit, welcoming and beautiful. While reading, I could relate perfectly to Liesel (except the part of stealing books.... shh...), and there was nothing preferred to do other than cuddle in my bed and read.

I thank Markus Zusak for providing me with such an alluring adventure. ( )
  mararina | Jul 23, 2015 |
So many different emotions in this book
  Yvonne_Chesak | Jul 21, 2015 |
Winner of more than 24 book awards, historical fiction, Nazis, Jewish, love, loss

How I might use this book:
Read aloud, group discussion with interesting perspective on life as a Jewish person
Compare/contrast to movie
Compare to other Hist Fic based in same time period ( )
  tawnyao | Jul 20, 2015 |
Love the concept of death telling the story. Interesting even though it's not action-packed. The movie was almost exactly like the book, and both are brilliant.
  mateideyr | Jul 17, 2015 |
Sublime book from the unique perspective of Death. Rather than rehash the plot as so many others have, I will say Zusak nails people and relationships. Including Liesel and her first love, Max, the Jew and his fragile relationship with the world in general during a time Jews were hunted like animals. It's the story of the relationships of Liesel and her foster Mamma and Poppa, of Liesel and the Mayor's wife and Liesel and her beloved words. The Book Thief will wring emotions from your soul you didn't realize existed. As it left an indelible mark on me, I'm sure it will do the same for you. Read it. It is gorgeous. ( )
  MauraSatchell | Jul 16, 2015 |
This book held my attention and pulled at my heart. The way that it ended tied everything together, and I felt for the characters. I simultaneously felt the loss, but also understood why it had to occur for the book to be complete. ( )
  LanaMarie | Jul 15, 2015 |
This is another story about World War II, with a different view.
This book describes a part of history that we would like to forget, but never should.
This story captures the joy and heartbreak of a horrible time in history and how people endure,
describing the war from a young girl's perspective.
It is a lovely and sensitive book about a horrific time, deeply moving with a unique narrative style. ( )
  Haidji | Jul 14, 2015 |
I loved this book (thank goodness, because my other choices this month were a little bit of a bust). The story of a young girl living in the throes of the first years of WWII. Despite a series of unfortunate incidents she learns to love to read, but must "steal" the books she comes to love so much. The small cast of characters involved in the telling of this story was so heart-wrenchingly real to me. From the publisher, "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". The interesting twist to this story is the narrator - The Grim Reaper himself. And as he says, he's not really a bad guy, just someone doing their job, like everyone else!

I noticed that THE BOOK THIEF is catagorized as a YA book. Don't let that stop you from reading this book.

( )
1 vote ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
A moving and powerful story that follows a young girl named Liesel Meminger and her childhood during WWII in Germany. The book is narrated by Death. Liesel becomes known as the Book Thief when she teaches herself to read and steals books. Death takes us through the lives of many members of the town of Molching and shares their thoughts, feelings and actions during the war.

Liesel becomes a foster child and ends up living with Hans and Rosa Hubermann. The Hubermann's end up housing a Jewish man during WWII. Liesel ends up befriending the Jewish man, Max Vandenburg. They develop a deep friendship during this time. Liesel and her best friend Rudy Steiner spend their time as most children playing together, however they also make numerous visits to the Mayor's house so Liesel can continue her love of reading by stealing books.

In the end Liesel and Max are the only two to survive the War. ( )
1 vote StephanieFeist | Jul 14, 2015 |
The most remarkable book I've read in years. I can't begin to do justice in describing it.

The story is . . . [fill in with your favorite adjective]. The characters are . . . [fill in with more favorite adjectives]. The use of narrative devices is incredible, and they all move the story forward without drawing attention to themselves as a distraction. The invocation of all of the reader's senses is really amazing.

By the end, you truly love all of the people in this book -- including the narrator (which is intriguing). The heroes and the villains are all just so completely, well, they are just human. ( )
2 vote Phyllis.Mann | Jul 13, 2015 |
About a young girl named Liesel in Nazi Germany. Living with foster parents in a poor neighborhood. She brings with her a stolen book, picked up off the ground from the cemetery where her brother was recently buried. She doesn't know how to read yet, but her new foster father patiently teaches her, and Liesel slowly finds a new world opening to her as words begin to speak from the pages. As the outside world crumbles around her- hatred, chaos, all the horrors of war- Liesel finds comfort in reading. And since there is no money to buy books, she steals them. A neighborhood boy who is her friend goes with her on forays to steal books, then her foster father teachers her to read them. At first she treasures the books for herself, later sharing them with others: the Jewish man hiding in their basement, the panic-stricken neighbors huddled together in a bomb shelter, the woman next door devastated by loss of her son. It's an amazing story about the power of words, and of friendship. Not without sorrow and pain. A rich and complex story about ordinary people suffering through wartime, about far more than just a girl who loves books, but I don't want to say much and give something away. The author will do enough of that for you.

I loved the way Zusak drew his characters, the ways his words crafted sentences, concise and yet strikingly descriptive. I was sometimes annoyed by the narrator: Death himself. There are frequent interjections by Death giving his overall opinion (in bold type, like a news headline) and he often announces what's going to happen later in the story. I was okay with this up to a point, but then fifty pages from the end of the book, Death bluntly reveals who is going to die. It deflated the emotional power of the book for me, and the ending fell a little flat. I much rather would have come upon that knowledge suddenly, through the events leading up to it, or with more subtle foreshadowing. Another small thing to note is that the story is told from the inside (so to speak) without much explanation of events in WWII or the Holocaust, so for younger readers unfamiliar with that history some things might be unclear.

from the Dogear Diary ( )
1 vote jeane | Jul 11, 2015 |
oh my god. i got so attached to the characters i think i cried a billion times during the last part of the book. i was going to give this a four star but on second thought, it really deserves its five full stars. this book is simply remarkable and everyone should read it at least once in their life. seriously.

*i can't wait for the movie to come out next year! ( )
1 vote novewong | Jul 8, 2015 |
Great contemporary novel for the high school reader. Engages students and teaches them about the holocaust from a very different perspective. This novel will lend itself to excellent discussion in the classroom. ( )
  Lynchd | Jul 6, 2015 |
The Book Theif I did not like the first 50 pages of this book. It annoyed me that the narrator talked in this weird 'third-person/dictionary' way. Looking back I guess I was more so annoyed that Hitler's people were practically forcing a mother to give up her children.I guess I'm giving [b:The Book Thief|19063|The Book Thief|Markus Zusak|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1390053681s/19063.jpg|878368] five stars instead of my original four might be because of how strongly I thought I was going to hate this book (after reading the first fifty or so pages). I became drawn in and learned to love Liesel, Papa, Mama, Rudy, and Max. The one thing that I would love to know is who Liesel married. I personally think that it's Max, I know there is a fourteen year age gap, but from watching their relationship I guess I'm kind of hoping that they find true happiness in each other. ( )
1 vote momma182 | Jun 23, 2015 |
I did not like the first 50 pages of this book. It annoyed me that the narrator talked in this weird 'third-person/dictionary' way. Looking back I guess I was more so annoyed that Hitler's people were practically forcing a mother to give up her children.

I guess I'm giving [b:The Book Thief|19063|The Book Thief|Markus Zusak|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1390053681s/19063.jpg|878368] five stars instead of my original four might be because of how strongly I thought I was going to hate this book (after reading the first fifty or so pages). I became drawn in and learned to love Liesel, Papa, Mama, Rudy, and Max.

The one thing that I would love to know is who Liesel married. I personally think that it's Max, I know there is a fourteen year age gap, but from watching their relationship I guess I'm kind of hoping that they find true happiness in each other. ( )
1 vote momma182 | Jun 23, 2015 |
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