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[Book Review] The Book Thief (2006) by Markus Zusak

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Plot Summary: It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.  Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who 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.

Author: Markus Zusak

Publisher: Picador, Austrailia; Knopf, USA

Genre: Novel-Historical Fiction

Review: by Lee

I didn't know anything about The Book Thief other than it was supposed to be really good, but, honestly, isn't that enough?

What I Liked:

The characters are definitely the biggest draw for The Book Thief.  If you can’t just sit back and enjoy a good character, this is not the book for you.  It really draws you into their world and makes you love them.  Each character is fully fleshed.  You see their strengths and their weaknesses, their good qualities and their flaws, and you love them for being human.  Like the author, my favorite character is definitely Rudy.  You would think it would be Liesel since she is the main character, the book thief, but, while she is likable and endearing, Rudy really steals the show.  A close second would be Hans, Liesel’s papa.  I can’t even put into words how lovely his character is.  Mama, though probably no one’s favorite at first, has her own extremely touching moments, one of which made me shed the first of many tears.  They are deep and very beautiful characters, which makes the book all the more sad.

The writing is descriptive in a way that I have never seen before.  The simplicity with which Zusak creates powerful imagery is amazing.  I would read certainly lines and think “wow, I wish I could write like that.”  In an interview with Zusak, contained in the end pages of the book, he was asked whether he has to work at his figurative language or if it comes naturally.  His response mentions that he likes “the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it.”  This statement really rings true in regard to The Book Thief.  Zusak is truly adept in his art.

The book takes a unique point of view both in its subject matter, and the form of its narrator, Death.  Most stories about the Holocaust are written about the Jewish people who were so massively affected by it, which is very understandable, or about the soldiers and officers at the heart of the war.  The Book Thief, however, focuses on a small town and the ordinary German citizens whose lives were inexorably altered by the beliefs and ideals of one man.  Both Nazi and Jewish sympathizers are present, but, more importantly, the story of the unbiased children and people who were just caught up in the tides of war portrays a side of the Holocaust not frequently discussed.  Equally as unusual as the subject matter, Death makes for an interesting narrator, and I definitely like him as both narrator and character.  One might think that Death would be pleased by the plethora of opportunities war affords him; instead, he is tired, weary and worn from his work, and fascinated by one small human child.

The actual narration is pleasant in its arrangement.  I appreciate Death’s interjections and their insight into the thoughts, nature, and history of the characters.  The heavy hints and warning of deaths to come, however, in no way lessen the despair of losing beloved friends, and that is what the characters become.  The end of the book was just a cry-fest for me.  I sobbed long and hard, but I did not put it down.

What I Didn’t Like:

The narrative started slowly for me.  It could easily have been something unique to me, since I was only reading while waiting in line for movie screeners.  When I read, I like to immerse myself in the characters’ world, but it’s difficult to do so with conversations happening all around you.  I don’t blame the book, and I think I will give it another read.  It deserves it.

I both love and hate the ending.  It was seriously heartbreaking for me.  I bawled so hard it became difficult to read.  I had to wipe tears out of my eyes just so I could read the next heart-wrenching line, which inevitably drew new tears.  If you do not like a good cry, this is NOT the book for you.  I will have to bring a few packs of tissues and some pain relievers with me to the theater when the movie comes out in November.

You can purchase the book from Amazon here:

This book is being made into a feature film.  You can watch the trailer below.

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