Jan 2, 2010

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

It's hard for me to find what to say about  The Book Thief. So many others have already read and shouted about it. I saw reviews all over the place, but it was Trish and BookGal who really made me want to read this one. I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed it, but there were also some things that kind of annoyed me.

The Book Thief is 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 words 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. Who in this story is 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. Such a powerful story, but that part really disappointed me. 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 readers unfamiliar with that history some things might be unclear. Check out some of the other reviews, listed below. A lot of them go into far more detail than I.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 552 pages, 2005

A few of the many other opinions:
The Zen Leaf
Jules' Book Reviews
The Reading Life
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

18 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Well darn - I've read so many good reviews of this one that I was really looking forward to reading it.

Literary Feline said...

Thank you for your insightful review, Jeane. I know there are others who took issue with Death's foreshadowing of events, so you aren't alone it that. I actually liked it myself and still cried like a baby when the actual event took place. But that's just me.

I was surprised at how dark the book was. I wonder why the U.S. publishers decided to market it as a young adult novel while the Australia marketed it as an adult one.

ANovelMenagerie said...

I have heard so much about it, I think I need to order it for the Kindle.

Gentle Reader said...

This has been on my list for so long--I really need to read it! Thanks for the review :)

Diane said...

Jeane ..sorry this book did not wow you.

I liked it when I read it in 2008.

Amanda said...

I think this one fell victim to its own cleverness.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I actually like the foreshadowing when I read this book earlier this year. I kept hoping the Death was lying, playing some sort of mean joke, but of course that wasn't true. I guess the knowing who would die didn't make any of that less painful, I felt like it added some emotional weight to events before the big one because there was this overhanging sorrow about what would happen. But of course to each her own :)

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- I think you should still read it. So many other readers really enjoyed it; I did too until three-fourths through when that revelation put me off.

Literary Feline- Thanks. I didn't realize this was YA when I first picked it up; the themes do seem more for adults.

ANovelMenagerie- Good plan.

Gentle Reader- It was on mine forever, too!

Diane- That's just it. I liked it, but was not wowed. I wanted to be... o well.

Amanda- My thoughts exactly.

Kim- It never occured to me that Death would be lying. His character in this book does not come across as being a trickster or deceitful. If I had thought so, I might not have been bothered as much!

Jeanne said...

I liked the inevitability of Death, the way you knew how this particular story was likely to come out (even young adults have been required to read books about Nazis), but how Death actually cared. The ending was foretold by who narrated the book, for me.

Jeane said...

Jeanne- I agree it was pretty inevitable that some characters were going to die- given the nature and setting of the story. I just didn't know who it was going to be, until Death flat out told me beforehand. I would have rather been a little surprised...

stefanie said...

I loved this book when I read it. I had a hard time with the beginning of the book and almost put it down. I wasn't bothered by the last fifty pages, they just made me start crying even sooner than I would have otherwise :)

Jenny said...

I never thought of this as a problem, but of course, I suppose most people don't like knowing who's going to die ahead of time. For me, I always want to know, so it just saved me the hassle of flipping pages & reading ahead. :P Sorry this wasn't better for you!

mel u said...

I also liked that we knew who would die from the words of Death-I actually came in sympathy with the character Death-this is a beautiful book and I got a lot out of your very insightful post-thanks for linking to my review of the book-
you might enjoy his "I Am the Messenger" also

Jeane said...

Stefanie- I think I might have cried had the ending hit me with more force. It just lost some of the emotional power, for me.

Jenny- I never look ahead! It spoils something of the reading experience for me.

Mel U- I've looked at reviews of The Messenger, but so far it's not a book that's calling my name...

Trish said...

I haven't been around much, so I'm not sure how long you've had the new look but I like it! Very clean looking.

I'm glad you mostly liked this one and I'm glad I urged you to pick it up! What a nice thing to find out. :) I do know what you mean about finding out the ending near the beginning. And interesting about the insider's perspective. I think because I've read several books about the Holocaust and WWII I didn't really notice but you make a good point.

Jeane said...

Trish- I've read quite a few Holocaust books, myself- but not so many lately. (Most were in high school). This is one of the few I've ever come across that was from the German viewpoint- and also of ordinary citizen who didn't neccesarily agree with what their country was doing.

Janet said...

I couldn't finish this one. I gave it a fair chance but just couldn't get into it.

Jeane said...

Janet- It took me some doing to get into it. I picked it up two or three times and was still disinterested after a few chapters. The interjections into the narration put me off a bit at first.

Sounds like it just wasn't for you.