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