The Book ThiefHot
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
The subject matter made this reader hesitate initially to take it on, but enough endorsement finally pushed me over the edge. I’m glad it did. (And I owe thanks to everyone who warned me not to let the slowness of the beginning dissuade me.) Once the story finally does pick up, it sucks you in with dread hopefulness and rending empathy.
When a book is narrated by Death itself, one doesn’t proceed with the expectation of sunshine and happiness. This presentation choice could easily have gone the way of overdone trope, but instead it’s used in sparing measure—with a reverent balance of gallows humor and haunting profundity. The chapter names sometimes act as clever foreshadowing, and in some cases, a wry form of misleading. The result is certain unpredictability to an otherwise fixed historical timeline.
"It kills me sometimes how people die." --Death
This is not simply another book about the holocaust.
Yes, it inextricably involves the terrible imprint of Nazi Germany. But it presents the event from an original and altogether sympathetic angle—through the story of an orphaned German girl who’s foster parents make the decision to hide a Jew in their basement. This book is about loss and compassion, pain and pity, fear and courage. It’s a look at the gradual indoctrination and downfall of a country through its effect on some of its most innocent and entrapped citizens. It’s a story about the many horrors of war, and of the ways humans cope with seemingly insurmountable stresses.
Zusak’s style reminded me of Neil Gaiman on more than one occasion—and I mean that in the best way possible. He has a way with muddling through utter darkness and still illuminating whatever redemptive bits of beauty might be worth finding. His prose is at times both soul-warming and heart-splintering in its rawness of candor. It evokes cinematic detailing, as well as profound emotional resonance.
This reader personally sees tremendous value in this book—particularly to a Young Adult audience now so far removed from the shadowy blight of the holocaust. For some, this could potentially bring the events to life in a way few other works could manage. True, the language usage is sometimes coarse to the point of excessive. But in the context of the time, the culture, and the characters, it becomes a sort of droning background noise—easily ignored.
“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”
It is a WWII story, but is singular in the way it is about a young German girl who never sets foot in a concentration camp or has to spend her days in hiding. That is not to say Liesel, the main character, has an easy time of it. She steals apples for something to eat while being gently haunted by her dead little brother. She sends dozens of letters to a mother who will never reply. Her adoptive father tries to join the Nazi party to protect his family from suspicion all the while hiding a Jew in his basement.
Life is not easy.
Narrated by Death, THE BOOK THIEF is littered with dark humor and scraps of shockingly beautiful imagery. Zusak has a way of painting a picture or thought that makes you stop and just sit there for a moment thinking.
Although she lives in a completely different world, Leisel is ultimately relatable. You care about her, from her every day trials to major crisis’s. Life during the Second World War is laid before you, clear and harsh, all centered around a girl who struggles to collect books while those around her burn them.
THE BOOK THIEF will break your heart and then slowly weld it back together again.
The tentative mini-romance existing between Liesel and her best friend Rudy is a burst of sweet innocence in a world consumed by turmoil. This is not a book that tries to say something or a have a moral. This is the story of a kid forced to live in a world that we couldn’t imagine. Yet, along the way it manages to give you a thousand little messages you’ll never forget. This is a book that creeps its way into your mind and unpacks its socks.
All of the supporting characters have depth and a purpose of some sort, although it may not always be immediately apparent. They seem real and alive even if just mentioned in passing. You feel for a woman that solely exists in one paragraph and have no idea why afterwards.
This is a story of regret and triumph, sorrows and joys, but above all it is a story of life.
One day as she is delivering laundry for Mama, Liesel discovers something astounding: the most unlikely treasure watched over by an unthinkable guard . . .a person who has witnessed Liesel's thievery. Meanwhile, Liesel's new family must honor a long-ago promise. In doing so, they teeter on the edge of a terrifying precipice.
A big, meaty read, THE BOOK THIEF has won many awards, including a Printz Honor Award. The story celebrates the triumph of the human spirit through books and reading during the worst of all possible times while giving us a view of the everyday lives of Germans living in Nazi Germany. Although it deals with often painful subjects, it's also a compelling read full of humor, warmth, and irresistible/quirky phrasing.
THE BOOK THIEF will twist your heart and stretch your soul. The story had such an emotional impact on me, that I can't stop talking about it to everyone I know . . .and I will never forget it.
Liesel is now one of my favorite heroines of all time. She's strong-willed, compassionate, and still just a girl. She cries, she makes mistakes, and she lets herself question everything she's ever known. The emotion contained in this one girl is just heartbreaking at times.
I could talk on and on about all the characters, but I'll keep things short and just say this: all the main side characters were wonderfully written and I felt some sort of affection towards them all.
Death is a fantastic narrator. He's a little odd, but really rather likable. I loved the way he cared for the humans and their souls. His storytelling is a bit disjointed, but I grew to like it.
I've never read or seen anything from the point of view of an average German in the times of World War II. It's easy enough to think of them all as one big, bad entity, but of course that's not the case. The majority of them were just normal people trying to continue on with normal lives. It hurts to know that these people could be anyone and that this truly happened to so many people.
The Nutshell: Everything I'd ever heard about the emotions of this book was true. I ended up finishing it at work and was quite the mess for the last hour or so of my day. The story may just be about a girl growing up in World War II Germany, but that's the quiet beauty of it all.
Now that I’ve reread it with a more mature and critical mindset, I think four stars still holds true.
Markus Zusak remains, in my mind, one of the most quotable authors I’ve ever read. His style is rich and full of imagery and clever turns of phrase that are beyond fantastic. If I wasn’t afraid that it might be stupid and something I’d later regret, I’d take out a highlighter and go crazy. As is, sticky notes will have to do. Simply put, Zusak writes the way I love, the way I want to write, the way one of my very good writing buddies writes (and I adore her prose because of her imagery and descriptiveness).
For the whole “Death narrates” aspect, I’m not blown away. I think it’s a clever idea, and I think it worked, and was an experiment in writing gone right. But many people seem to think Death’s grim humor and unique tone is what makes the book, and I’d have to disagree. It’s interesting, yes, but that’s not what makes the book special.
And in my opinion, what makes this book worth the second read is the last 70 pages. The Book Thief’s end is one of the most hauntingly beautiful things I’ve ever read, probably more so because the reader knows it’s coming from the absolute beginning. The entire thing is an emotional mess. I don’t cry when I read books, and I didn’t cry when I read The Book Thief, but the feeling was there. It’s such a terrific sad-yet-happy resolution. I finished this and seriously sat there like: “Did this all just happen? Did Zusak just pull that off?”
I read Zusak’s other major novel, I Am the Messenger, last year, and I think that in comparison, the writing of The Book Thief is maybe a little less accessible. Death’s narration gives you a certain distance from the characters and plot, and his little sidebar comments can at times be distracting. Some may like that, but I don’t. That’s why, on the whole, I’m not as huge a fan of Zusak’s choice in narrator as the rest of The Book Thief’s dedicated fans.
And while Zusak’s angle on WWII is new—poor German foster girl who steals books—I feel that on the whole, WWII as a topic is very, very tired. I’m not denying that there’s a lot of material to work with, but I can only read so many books about how awful the Nazis were before things get stale. Elie Wiesel’s Night paints the picture clearly enough without additional fictionalized accounts. It’s sort of the way I felt about John Green’s The Fault in our Stars—a great author tackles overdone gimmick.
That being said, the first couple hundred pages of this are very rough, and by rough I mean boring. It’s all typical Nazis attempting to brainwash unsuspecting Germans, some people who see through the brainwashing and are morally superior to hating Jews, hiding a Jew in the basement—the sort of thing anybody would write about in a WWII-era novel.
But like I said, the last 70 pages redeemed a lot of the staleness of this book.
For those willing to brave the dense content and length, The Book Thief is worth your time. Zusak’s writing is excellent, as is the end. I can easily see why this book is so popular, and I think it’s well-deserving of its fame. When I read it when I was fourteen, I remember being pretty ambivalent about it, and I think I still am.
Not one of my absolute favorites, even after a reread and some consideration, but I think it’s a worth while time investment. Zusak certainly can write.
• It’s a story about the importance of telling and reading stories. Liesel and Max Vandenburg use reading to get themselves through their darker days, Liesel and her foster father read together, Liesel and the mayor’s wife come together through a mutual love of books, Liesel reads to the townspeople as they huddle together during the bomb raids. Perhaps especially important in stories about war and The Holocaust—events which, more than so many other things, call for two of storytelling's most important functions: memory and empathy.
• Rudy Steiner, Rudy Steiner, Rudy Steiner.
Liesel’s best friend and partner in troublemaking, brave boy, full of light. The tragedy of a young boy’s death in war is something easily acknowledged, but the fact of it—robbing him, Liesel, the world of his bright, bright future—wouldn’t hurt so deeply if Rudy weren’t someone to love so completely. Heartbreaking.
• Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster father: a kind man who keeps his promises and doesn’t know what to do in the face of the tidal wave of Nazi Germany and the war. Again, heartbreaking as a symbol of the real-life men and women of Germany in the 1930s/40s.
• Not everybody in the town is a nice person, in the normal way that not everyone is nice. This is important to show—war doesn’t care how nice people are.
• Some standout poetic sentences and imaginative descriptions throughout.
• The narration by Death offers the opportunity for some interesting reflections and poignant moments of death in wartime and in peace.
What's not to like?
• Extremely irritating stylistic choice of what other reviewers have called interjections. I might call them interruptions. Whatever they are, they feel extremely gimmicky—except it’s not clear what this gimmick is supposed to accomplish, which makes it all the more puzzling and intrusive.
• It is difficult to care, particularly, about Liesel—this must be the main problem with the book. The narrative is somewhat patchwork, containing many vignettes that occur either during or prior to Liesel’s own timeline, many of which are beautiful or sad or true-seeming. However, Liesel feels like little more than a catalyst for all the interesting things that happen all around her. As the titular character, the book thief should be the one the readers are most invested in, but it seems impossible to get a sense of who she really is—which is thrown into even sharper relief by the captivating personalities of Rudy Steiner, Hans Hubermann, and other townspeople. As a result, the book is missing a heart, which made it difficult for me to love it.
What made me pick it up?
The title; seemingly universal praise; it was continuously on the bestseller list since long before I even paid any attention to bestseller lists.
Other books to try:
The Berlin Boxing Club
Number the Stars
Code Name Verity
Overall recommendation: Recommended.
It's the other words to describe my feelings toward this book that I find hard to think about.
The fact that this book is told from death's perspective is simply brilliant.
The writing is spectacular. Like all of Zusak's books.
I don't know. I will just never forget the feeling of staring at the wall in my room after finishing the last chapter.
Firstly, it is narrated by Death itself. That's something I have never ever seen before, and I was done in the most perfect of ways.
Secondly, this book is set in one of the darkest of times that humans have ever been through. But this book isn't all dying and screams of the Jewish being tortured, this book still has a childhood that a lot of people would die for. One full of a loving family, amazing friends and criminal escapades.
Lastly this book has such an astounding use of metaphors. Markus Zusak has compared things no one else could. He barley used any smilies, but metaphors, making you want so much to believe. My favorite metaphor in this book was the one about the cloud stretching towards the sun like a tight-rope, and Max and Liesel walking hand in hand along it together. This was a truly beautiful line that was truly amazing.
Most books that have been written during this period of time are very depressing, with hardly fun parts, all sadness for everyone of the characters. But this book had captured the laughter and smiles of the children who still had fun during this time, children like Liesel and Rudy.
I think that this book kinda let itself down in the sections when it told us the ending. I think that this spoiled the storyline, and made you know what to expect. I know that this was a recount by Death, but I think that the author should of not gave away the ending.
This book is beautiful, haunting and it captures your heart in every page you turn, a flourishing childhood blooming in the saddest of times.
That said, this was a wonderful book. It’s very different from most of the YA fiction out there. The writing style almost made me feel like I was floating above the story, or dreaming it. Death views everything happening in Liesel’s life calmly. Death doesn’t make many judgments about what he is witnessing. He is intrigued, and sometimes feels sorry for the people he is observing, but he is mostly detached from the events. It almost gave the book a hazy feel, if that makes any sense.
Also, since Death exists outside of our perceptions of time and space (and since he is Death), he sometimes jumps around in the narrative. A character will have something happen to him, and suddenly Death will interject his own thoughts about that character’s death, sometime later. And then we’ll be back in the present again. Sometimes a death is mentioned briefly early in the book, then explained fully later. Other times, Death merely alludes to the character’s later death, and that’s the last we ever hear of it.
Some people find this off-putting or spoiler-ish. But seriously, everyone dies, someday. And I imagine if I was Death, I’d view people’s actions through the lens of their eventual and inevitable deaths too.
As for the human characters, I never felt like I truly knew or completely understood them, because Death doesn’t fully know or understand them either. But I was able to feel them and sympathize with them. I could see many nuances and facets to each of them, but always with a slight sense of detachment. It’s a hard feeling to put into words. Normally, if I don’t feel fully connected with the characters, I can’t enjoy a book. But the detachment in this book seemed very deliberate, instead of the author just not knowing how to make me feel connected.
As for the plot itself, this isn’t a typical Holocaust book, in that we don’t ever venture into the concentration camps (with the exception of Death’s haunting recollection of carrying souls away from the gas chambers) and the main character is too young to fully understand what is going on around her. Liesel’s main concerns are obtaining food, reading her books, and spending time with her friends and foster parents. The main exception to this is the time spent hiding Max in the basement. But even then, Liesel is more concerned with the stories he tells and the friendship they form. She doesn’t care that he is a Jew, and doesn’t spend much time pondering his fate if he is ever found out.
There’s a bittersweet innocence to her story. She can go to Hitler Youth meetings, attend book burnings, and hide a Jew in her basement, but she is still largely ignorant to the horrors of the world around her. Of course, even a child can’t be oblivious forever, and once the war finally comes directly to Liesel, it is hear- wrenching.
I cried towards the end of this book. I pretty much never cry during books (I think the last time I cried was when I read The Chamber by John Grisham in 1998, and I still can’t really explain that one), but I cried while reading this one. The only thing stopping me from a full-on gulping and hiccuping ugly-cry was the fact that my husband was sleeping in the bed next to me, and I didn’t want to wake him up (plus, I kind of thought that if I did wake him up, he may make fun of me for crying so hard at a book. And I didn’t feel like explaining why it was totally justified).
I wasn’t prepared for how hard it was going to hit me. As I mentioned before, I felt like I had gone through the bulk of the book as a detached observer. I didn’t feel completely connected to the characters, although I didn’t mind. And yet at the end, I could barely even breathe through the tears.
The Book Thief is a story of regular people doing the best they can during a period of unspeakable evil. It’s a story of Death being fascinated by life. And a story of a child being a child, in a world where innocence is a luxury few can afford.
I thought it was beautiful.
That said, this book is a little bit hard to get in to. It’s narrated from the perspective of Death, who is more sympathetic and compassionate than you might imagine – maybe even more so than humans. The above little paragraph I wrote is how I felt upon the second time I read the book, whereas the first time, I thought it was simply an average book and only revisited it about a year later. It’s a bit confusing at the start of the book, which is why I felt I was more able to appreciate the book a second time through.
Zusak’s use of Death as narrator is actually pretty brilliant. He’s got an excellent last sentence that is rather ironic, but portrays a very striking message. It’s so easy to love all the characters, no matter who they are. And I want to just say: the writing. The writing. THE WRITING. Wow. I have never read a book that compared to this level of writing because Zusak’s style is so unique and beautiful and heartbreaking and able to convey the most complex ideas through the most simple sentences. There’s a chapter near the end of the book that takes up less than a page – I had already been crying for quite a bit, but those few sentences completely threw me over the edge.
Which reminds me: this is a sad book. Lots of hope in it too, but it’s really just so tragic to read sometimes. I mean, come on, a book taking place in Nazi Germany and looking at the lives of a family who is very much accepting of Jews. I felt like I was constantly crying in the last fifty pages or so (probably less), but every time I thought I was going to stop, I’d read something else that’d make me feel so awfully sad again.
Recommended for: those with an appreciation for beautiful writing style, anyone who wants a unique viewpoint of World War II, people who want to learn a few German curse words, and everyone else, too.