Where do I even start on this one? The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was our neighborhood book club selection, we haven’t yet met to discuss it, but I couldn’t wait to write about it. First off, I could not believe that The Book Thief is considered a young adult book. I think it’s one of those books that would appeal largely to adults as well, I only hope that it’s labeling doesn’t make those who don’t read juvenile literature hesitant to pick it up. It’s my understanding though that this book is in the Adult category in Zusak’s home country of Australia.
I’d say that the first twenty pages or so are very confusing. At first, I couldn’t figure out who the narrator was and I was not used to the way in which the book was written. I finally figured out that the narrator is Death and he stops to give “announcement-like” declarations throughout the book. Once I passed this hump and got into the rhythm of the book, it was very easy to understand and read (after I wrote the majority of this review, I read other reviews, and they all seemed to mention the same thing). The writing actually became refreshing and it was a nice break, stylistically speaking, from all the other books I had been reading. This is though one of those books that, like my recent A Thousand Splendid Suns review, made me stop and think about the comforts of life which I enjoy and grateful that I have not lived in a war torn country.
To quote A Book Thief:
It’s 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 story begins as a young Liesel Menimger is traveling to a small town outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, the narrator Death, becomes intrigued with Liesel when her little brother dies. It is here that she steals her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook. He then follows and narrates her story. Liesel, is being given to foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, for reasons that she does not quite grasp nor understand. Despite the constant swearing and yelling (mostly by Rosa) Liesel is treated well and loved by her new foster parents, she makes friends with a boy named Rudy, goes to school, is taught to read by Hans, but the book becomes tense as the war begins to hit closer and closer to home and the family hids a Jew named Max in their basement.
Liesel is infatuated with words. Hans teaches her to read, and Liesel can not get enough of books and their words inside. She learns that it is words that give people power and it is words which holds the country under the control of Hitler and the Nazi party.
This story told by Death, is about death and the threat of death and the brutality of man is continually in the background. The book showcases mans ability to be brutal and the ability to have great compassion. It humanizes those who lived through World War II and teaches us how small defiance’s make a large difference.
I would highly recommend this book to everybody! One of the best reads in a long time! I was so excited to find this amazing short:
Reviews (from Bookmarks Magazine)
Hartford Courant – [Zusak] writes in a moving but never maudlin way about ordinary Germans caught up in the grim machinery of the Holocaust, who quietly and at enormous risk find ways to subvert it. … It is a testimony to Zusak’s strength and skill as a writer that the tears this story rightly evokes seem the proper tribute to this shattering, haunting book.” Carole Goldberg
Philadelphia Inquirer – If you start this novel expecting a cornball triumph-of-the-human spirit-through-the-magic-of-reading kind of experience, you’re in for a surprise. … [Liesel’s] story is remarkable in that it’s one of many equally tragic ones—and because it takes a special talent to find its moments of beauty among the rubble.” Katie Haegele
San Antonio Exp-News - An observant narrator, Death doesn’t hold back the bravery, persistence, twists of fate and love that swirls around ‘book thief’ Liesel. The ending transcends the sadness of war violence that reaches Molching through powerful emotion made possible only from all the storytelling risks author Zusak himself takes.” David Hendricks
San Francisco Chronicle – Zusak has done a useful thing by hanging the story on the experience of a German civilian, not a camp survivor, and humanizing the choices that ordinary people had to make in the face of the Führer. It’s unlikely young readers will forget what this atrocity looked like through the eyes of Death.” Reyhan Harmanci
Washington Post - The book’s length, subject matter, and approach might give early teen readers pause, but those who can get beyond the rather confusing first pages will find an absorbing and searing narrative. … Death, like Liesel, has a way with words.” Elizabeth Chang
New York Times – “Markus Zusak has not really written Harry Potter and the Holocaust. It just feels that way.” Janet Maslin
Other blogger reviews:
U Krakovianki Reviews I found the literary device of anthropomorphizing death to narrate the book to be a bit of a stumbling block. It was probably the aspect of the book that I liked the least, and yet it does work. I found Death’s constant interruptions to the story to be irritating and frustrating, but as I read, I decided that death is very much just that–an interruption to the smoothly flowing story of life. Death is constantly interrupting–telling us things that we would rather not know–and then the story moves on. The interruptions do not stop the story–it goes on. Some people are no longer part of the story, but it goes on just the same, until death interrupts again: a pattern as old as the world.
3M’s Review Each character in the book is so perfectly portrayed and so lovingly depicted. I fell in love with each one and cared deeply about what happened to them. I won’t spoil any more of the storyline, because this book is a treasure to read and to ponder over long after the final page is turned. It is a story that will stay with me for many, many years to come.
Carlo Reviews The war without the war, with the death as narrator. Interesting, but not a light reading. A good story, but not enough to keep you awake in the night. Well written, but not breathtaking. I would not suggest it, but to be completely honest it is much better than many many other books I have read lately!
Stefanie Reviews You’d think with Death as the narrator of the book and the fact that it is set in Germany during World War II that I would be prepared for a sad ending. This is one of those books where you love all the characters and even though you know how the war ends, even though you know what happens, you hope that maybe here, maybe in this book, history can be changed, people can be saved and that everything might turn out alright.
Booklogged Reviews The whole book is filled with beautiful and unexpected arrangements of words. This alone is not what makes the book so outstanding. The story is compelling. The characters are flawed but important. You love them. You care about them. You worry and cry for them. Even Death.
Links of interest: Reading guide and Marcus Zusak’s website. More book blogger reviews.
Genre: Historical Young Adult Fiction.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers. March 14, 2006.
Hardcover, 560 pages. ISBN 0375831002
Source copy: Own
The Book Thief is available from your favorite independent bookstore, Powell’s, and Amazon.