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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief (original 2005; edition 2008)

by Markus Zusak

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23,568142247 (4.38)4 / 1707
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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Showing 1-25 of 1331 (next | show all)
How do I describe this book? I am nowhere near as good at descriptions and word play as Zusak. The imagery is amazing. The personification of Death the best I've read. I mean this book is stunning. I could not put it down. You can feel and see what his characters feel and see. And thats just the characters. The story is very well written. It reminds me of Tom Sawyer meets Anne Frank with a dash of On a Pale Horse. ( )
  PhxDan | Jul 30, 2014 |
I was given this book for my birthday by my Aunt. Previous to this I had seen the book and heard about well before the movie had been talked about, but I had written it off as something that wasn't for me. I could not have been more wrong.

I do not have the words to describe exactly how I feel upon completion of this book. This story was heartbreaking yet at times quite humorous, I sobbed and I laughed. There is nothing I can say which I am sure has not already been said so all I will say is this; if you have not read this book, please do, I am sure you will not regret it. ( )
  NicolePatrick | Jul 30, 2014 |
I listened to this in audio form and this book is absolutely amazing. I knew what type of ending to expect going into this and I was not disappointed. ( )
  nycke137 | Jul 29, 2014 |
I listened to this in audio form and this book is absolutely amazing. I knew what type of ending to expect going into this and I was not disappointed. ( )
  nycke137 | Jul 29, 2014 |
I listened to this in audio form and this book is absolutely amazing. I knew what type of ending to expect going into this and I was not disappointed. ( )
  nycke137 | Jul 29, 2014 |
I wasn't sure I would enjoy this book when I picked it up, but I was in for a wonderful surprise. What starts off as an interesting premise, the life of a young girl during WWII who loves books enough to go out of her way to obtain them, quickly becomes a story that you can't put down. All of the characters are charming and put through heart-wrenching circumstances that accurately reflect how life was in Germany during the war, and I was in tears more often than once. That said, there are certainly some funny and thoroughly memorable things that happen as well, and enough action to keep the story intense and in high-gear. After I finished the book I watched the movie and it too was worth every moment of my attention. This is a keeper for my own kids and grandchildren to read and watch. ( )
  Musefall | Jul 29, 2014 |
Summary: The story is told by Death and it is s sotry of Liesel who is ten years old and is traveling on a train with her mother and little bother Werner. Liesel and Werner are being taken into Germany to be with foster parents. However, Werner dies on the train mysteriously but it had something to do with lack of poverty,hunger, cold, and medical treatment. During the funeral service, Liesal steals THe grave Diggers Handbook from the cemetery but she is unable to read. Once she is with her foster family, she starts school but is behind from the ability of not being able to read. Her foster father discovers the book she stole, and he is inspired to teach her to read. Basically the story reflect on the Nazi police and in the end , Liesel dies (when she is older) but did live a happy life with her husband, kids, and grandkids.
Personal REflection: The books has lots of twists and turns. I feel like the book can get a little confusing with so many plot twists in it. I enjoyed reading it and loved how suspicious it was. However, i may have over read this part, but what is the reasoning they were being put into foster care in the first place?
Classroom Extensions: Compare and contrast a poem "Death be not Proud" by John Donne to the book thief. Look back at the holocaust and use sources from this.
  atinney16 | Jul 24, 2014 |
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book is just about everywhere and is getting quite a bit of hype online. This is considered a Young Adult fictional book, and there has been a recent movie adaptation of it.
So, it is written from Death's point of view, during WWII. The story follows a German girl, Liesel, from ages 10-14 who lives with foster parents in a very poor part of Germany. Her foster dad teaches her how to read and she begins stealing books. Her life is forever changed when a special someone shows up at her doorstep.
The struggles and reality of life and feelings during this time are shown well throughout the book. The author's idea of writing as Death was great, and is a fresh difference from other books. I did shed a small tear a couple of times in the book, but I didn't sob.
I did enjoy the experience reading the book, and I don't think I would have picked it up without all of the hype. Although it is over 500 pages, it was a very quick read--Zusak is brilliant. With that said, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, stories of perseverance and strength, family values, etc. If you don't like reading about death and slightly gruesome scenes, or if these things are triggers for you, this book may not be for you. ( )
  joaslo | Jul 22, 2014 |
My favorite part of this book was the narrator. I know this book has received much acclaim but I have read better stories about this turbulent period in history. Fortunately for me or unfortunately as it makes me seem like a glutton for punishment, I was determined to complete this book. Don't make any mistake, I respect the subject matter.
The premise of the book is good. It reminds of that families are not always biological. You have love Hans. He is a natural parent and a loyal man. Most people would dislike Rose. I did not. Living her life could not have been easy so her surly disposition is permissible. She is not terribly mean she is simply grumpy but she does have a good heart. Rudy is so much a boy. He wants to have a kiss from Liesel. His receiving the kiss profound. I like the neighborhood dynamics yet the story was missing something. Should you read this book? Yes because every reader needs to makeup their own mind regarding books especially the books that are much hyped. ( )
  vtlucania | Jul 20, 2014 |
This is one of my favorite books of all time. I know that it will be one of the books that stay with me for the rest of my life. Even though it was a book that I had to read, my teacher definitely knew what she was talking about. ( )
  hockeyzc58 | Jul 16, 2014 |
I really enjoyed this book. It was a very touching and original book. I connected to the main character, Liesel. I have a close relationship with my father, kinship with literature, and prefer books over people. I really like the way Zusak portrayed Death as the narrator with his delicate metaphors and fluidity throughout the book. ( )
  aliterarylion | Jul 14, 2014 |
Set in the backdrop of Nazi Germany during World War II, the story is narrated by Death, who has the 'job' of collecting the millions of souls lost in that time. However, this story is not macabre in that is it about life -- the every day life of the common people, specifically that of a small neighborhood outside of Munich, and how their world was turned upside down. The paradox is that while I could not put the book down, I also felt the weightiness of the story and many times felt the need to stop for a while. Achingly beautiful, hauntingly sad.... the reader cannot help but be drawn into the story.
  MomsterBookworm | Jul 14, 2014 |
My irritation grew as I was reading The Book Thief, until it suddenly dawned upon me: this is a Young Readers book camouflaged as a regular novel! And suddenly it all became clear: the shallow and manicheistic character development, the one-sided caricatures of the adult characters in the novel, and the precious writing style. I probably would have loved, nay adored this book when I was, say, 14.
But many moons have passed since then, and now this book just got on my nerves as I progressed. The gimmick of attributing a gender to inanimate objects was cute, and indicated that the narrator was thinking from a German-language perspective. But the gimmick is given up after a few pages (and by the way: why would Death, as the main narrator, be German-speaking anyhow? And how does that explain the errors in German that are sprinkled throughout the book? And I don't mean when Bavarian dialect is used, but actual writing errors). Another gimmick is the synaesthetic attribute, where nouns are matched with odd adjectives: that creates some creative tension initially, but after a few dozen instances one starts to suspect that it is just unimaginative writing. Proof for my thesis that the author had overdosed on the "Figures of Speech" chapter in his creative writing course was the zeugma "She opened the door and her mouth". But by then I'd figured out that this was intended for 14-year olds who love this kind of thing, so I did not get too annoyed.
** (spoilers from here on)** So why was this book so succesful? There must be some kind of Goodwin bonus involved, which makes readers overlook the shoddy writing and plot (the Jewish character which they hide in their basement happens to be a prize fighter with the wisdom of Gandhi, who happens to be walked through the main character's village and is duly liberated from the concentration camp at the end of the war). And, truth be told, there are some moving passages in the book and poetic moments. But the manipulative writing style spoiled it for me. Recommended for that brooding 14-year old who is a bit too smart for her years; she'll love it. ( )
  fist | Jul 13, 2014 |
This is a really different book from it's perspective. No spoiler alert! Read it!! ( )
  hersheymai | Jul 11, 2014 |
I wish I could give this 10 stars. Exquisite. ( )
1 vote twerkysandwich | Jul 10, 2014 |
What I found to be the most interesting aspect of the novel is the use of Death as a narrator/character. This is a book that should be read more than once- there is so much to take in when reading. The fact that one of the book's earliest chapters is also one of the ending events in the book creates questions that will not be answered until the end. The story chronicles the life of Liesel Meminger as she grows up in a foster home and learns to rebuild her life after the death of her brother and her mother's abandonment. Her life intersects with other important characters and helps to shape her views of Jewish persecution and her views of Hitler as a ruler. At the beginning of the novel, she admires Hitler and dreams of him giving speeches. By the end of the novel, she has an entirely different view of Hitler and his Nazi party. She learns to feel compassion and understands injustice and cruelty. Although I know some students who have read the book in 5th grade, I would not recommend this book until the 8th grade or high school. It is an amazing book. ( )
  SuPendleton | Jul 9, 2014 |
This story is narrated by Death and is set during World War II in Germany. Liesel is a young girl, living with Hans and Rosa, who are her foster parents. She has a best friend, Rudy, and a new friend in Max, a Jew who comes to hide in Hans and Rosa's basement. Liesel learns that she loves books, and along with Rudy, they steal books from the mayor's wife's library.

I liked it, but it didn't blow me away like it did for most people. I don't know if it was because I listened to the audio or because my expectations were too high, or for some other reason, but the story didn't grip me. I did enjoy a lot of the characters in the book, in particular, Hans and Max, with Rosa coming in close behind. I thought it was clever to be narrated by Death. The ending did surprise me. ( )
  LibraryCin | Jul 8, 2014 |
Wow. That is the best word for this incredible book.

It is narrated by Death, who is telling the story of a young girl in nazi Germany. It was an amazing book.

Read it. Now. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
How can something be so beautiful and terrible at the same time?

A thief, many books, many words, a child who wants to be black, a breathing accordion, a Jew with feathered hair and angel's words, a closet with a penchant for pigs, a Führer, a war, a train, a brother ... and death.

This book is narrated by death, a death that has heart.One that does not beat, but not by that means that is less alive than any of us, because his heart can love, and I'm sure if he could die, his soul would be also very light.

A story like death itself, beautiful but terrible.

Authentic, original, touching. Perfect. ( )
  Glire | Jul 7, 2014 |
One of those stories that you just want to hold next to your heart. ( )
  Jolynne | Jul 4, 2014 |
You know when you read a book that will stay with you forever. When the words are more than just ink on paper and the characters are more than creative figments of a writer's imagination. When each page makes you want to select at least one sentence to record again - in your own hand - to keep as your own. The Book Thief is that book.

"It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away."

The Book Thief is the story of a girl growing up in a war. She lives on an ordinary street in Munich, Germany, but she - and her story - are anything but ordinary. Her name is Liesel Meminger and her tale is narrated by Death.

A nine-year-old girl finds herself watching as her younger brother is buried in the cold snow, standing alone as she is left by her mother, fearing the unknown as she is delivered on the doorstep of her foster parents - all while her country is falling under the spell of Hitler. Hans Hubermann, her foster father, teaches her to read; to understand the power of words. It is a lesson that Liesel will never forget. It will become the thing that saves her life.

Powerful, profound, and unforgettable, this is a book that will keep a permanent home on my over-crowded bookshelf. More than just a story - an illustration of the might and the majesty of words.

"There was once a strange, small man . . . but there was a word shaker, too." ( )
  Jenna.Czaplewski | Jul 3, 2014 |
Excellent book about the difficulties faced by the Jews during WWII ( )
  MaryCE | Jul 3, 2014 |
I've read this book three times now and it just blows me away each time. I'm so attached to Liesel and her family. They are so very real. But that's why its so sad. It feels like they could be your neighbors, friends or even you. ( )
  sscarllet | Jul 1, 2014 |
This book was an blend of beauty and brutality. It haunts me.

I almost gave up after the first dozen pages. But then the writing style became more comfortable as the young protagonist buries her brother and goes to live with her foster family in Hitler's Germany. ( )
  dougcornelius | Jun 30, 2014 |
There are so many reasons one might hesitate to read The Book Thief, and I think they can easily be summed up in a sentence:

"This is a novel about a girl in Nazi Germany during World War II, narrated by Death."

That narrator gave me more pause than the Nazi Germany or World War II elements, to be honest. For one thing, it suggested that The Book Thief might have paranormal elements, which rarely appeal to me; that was a misconception, fortunately. It also suggested that this novel might be a sad, weepy downer–which actually fits with the Nazi Germany/WWII elements. And there are parts of The Book Thief that are hard to get through without getting a bit choked-up and misty-eyed. They are honestly earned. There are also parts that are amusing, heartwarming, and provoking.

The story told by Death is one of the most life-affirming novels I’ve ever read, and is ultimately a story of love–love of friends, of family, of home, and of books. ( )
  Florinda | Jun 30, 2014 |
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