The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


This absolutely unique piece of historical fiction moved me more than any book has done for a very long time, perhaps even since I read The Time Travellers Wife. This is a book for book lovers. The Book Thief is written by an Australian author, and it is is debut adult novel, after a career of writing children's fiction.

The protagonist of the novel is Liesel Meminger, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. It begins with the death of her brother, and her mother then leaving her in the care of the Huberman's, who become her new family. There is Mama, a fierce disciplinarian, and Papa a caring and warm man who dedicates hours to teaching Liesel to read. With the help of her Papa, she begins to read The Gravediggers Handbook, a book she finds following the burial of her brother.

What is particularly unique about this story of Nazi Germany, is that it is narrated by Death. Death doesn't introduce himself in those terms, but it becomes clear who is telling us the story of The Book Thief.

The style is expressive in a lyrical way, and is still very modern. Not only do we see the story unfold from Liesel's perspective, but we also have asides from Death, sometimes written as if they were on a gravestone. In effect, it is Death re-telling the story of Liesel, The Book Thief, and so we are provided many glimpses of the future of the story. This in no way deters the reader from reading on, it is one of those books where it is the journey to the conclusion that is the real joy of the book.  Death himself acknowledges:
"Of course, I'm being rude. I'm spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don't have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It's the machination that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest and astound me".
Zusak skilfully creates Liesel's experience through Death's storytelling with the use of imagery. This is because Death gives a very sensory account of the world, describing events, places and people with phrases such as"the smell of friendship", "scent of Hitler's gaze" and "For me, the sky was the colour of Jews". We are left with strong and clear images burned into our minds as we watch Liesel's story unfold.

As we give in to the sensory reality of Death's narrative, we see Liesel experience the normal angst of childhood; struggling through school, going on adventures with her best friend Rudy Steiner and helping her Mama raise funds by collecting laundry from neighbours. It is in this last role that she is truly able to give in to her love of books, and she eventually begins stealing them from the mayors house, after she makes friends with the mayor's wife. It is this act, and the further acts of book thievery that lead Death to give her the name of  'The Book Thief''.

There is a darker side to her life though. She lives in a town a short distance from Dachau, and witnesses Jews being marched through her city. We witness her and Rudy's involvement in the Hitler Youth Movement, and cringe at the insidious way in which Nazism infects their daily lives. Nazism has a more significant impact upon her life when her family begins to shelter a Jew, Max Vandenberg.

This book is undoubtedly about the experience of human misery in WWII, and Zusak does a brilliant job of describing the realities and intricacies of the lives of German people during Hitler's reign. We see acts of cruelty and acts of kindness and love.

And yet, The Book Thief is also about the power of language. It is books that allow Liesel to recover after her brothers death and her mothers abandonment. Books and language bring her closer to her Papa and become integral to her relationship with Max Vandenberg and to a lesser degree the Mayor's wife. It is though books and storytelling that she brings comfort to those that she shares the bomb shelters with, and it is books that play an important role in those transgressions against the Nazi state that she and others are willing to commit. Significantly, it is because of books that Death is able to tell us Liesel's story at all.

This is a book that had tears rolling down my face on three different occasions. It is a powerful but sad story about human suffering and the importance of language in the modern world. If you are a book lover, and a lover of language, then I not only recommend this book to you, I ask you to read it.

Summary

What kind of read is this?
It is an easy read, but it is emotionally challenging. It is very different to anything I have read before, largely in terms of the style in which it is written.

Do I recommend this book?
Yes, I couldn't recommend another book more strongly. You absolutely must read this.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Again, yes, absolutely, without hesitation. My book collection is all the more stronger for having this book.

Star Rating

8 / 8

One of the best books I have ever read. Everyone should read it - it is totally amazing. I am in love.




Book Details: Paperback, 584 pages, published by Pan MacMillan Australia, published in 2008, English

24 comments

  1. This book first caught my eye when I was browsing at Target. I almost bought it then, but I already had such a tall stack of books I wanted to read, and I figured I could get it from paperbackswap.com. But it's been on my TBR list ever since. Your review makes me want to bump it up to the top!

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  2. I recently got a copy of this book from the Goodreads Swap program, but I haven't read it yet. I have seen nothing but excellent reviews on it. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I loved this book when I read it a couple of years ago too! I haven't managed to read more from Zusak yet, but I will eventually.

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  4. I love this book-I also liked his prior book-I Am The Messenger a really lot-though the Book Thief is better-I wonder what he is working on now?

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  5. Rarely do I re-read books. They must be absolutely, utterly, spectacularly (insert more adverbs!) outstanding for me to re-read.

    Or even think about re-reading.

    The Book Thief is such a book.

    If you haven't read it and you've just read Becky's awesome review, go out now and read this book .

    This is one of those once in a decade books. It will make you laugh, cry, and everything in between. You will feel hope, frustration, sadness and joy.

    Most of all, you will be captivated by the book thief and her world gone wrong.

    Why it is classed as 'Young Adult' fiction is the only thing I will never understand. This is way too good to be missed by reading adults. Thank goodness Australian booksellers put it on the ADULT shelves!

    Thank you for writing this spectacular review, Becky!

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  6. Thanks for that wonderful addition Amanda. For everyone out there with it on your TBR, you will not be disappointed if you bump it straight to the top.

    Someone did mention to me that in America it was marketed as young adult fiction. I think that as a young adult I could have read this and enjoyed it, but I don't see it working as young adult fiction like it does at adult fiction. I can't imagine a teenager getting as much out of it as an adult would

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  7. Here in Manila is is also marketed as a young adult book-such a waste of a a huge market as a lot of adults never go into the young adult sections of book stores-if not for other bloggers I would have never read it-

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  8. Wow! You really managed to convey why we should read this book and even though it's not typical to what I usually read, I will give it a go.

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  9. Wow, wow, wow! Awesome review. This book sounds too good to be true - I'm seeing if my library has this!

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  10. I liked the book, except that the character of Death kept giving away what was going to happen. I never got used to that and it sort of spoiled the emotion punch of the end, for me.

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  11. This is a book I've had my eye on for quite some time. Sounds like it's definitely one to make sure to read! Thanks!

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  12. You did an amazing job with your review!!! As you know, I just read this and was as blown away with it as you were. It was so brilliantly written and emotionally affecting. Like you said, it had a very modern feel yet felt utterly timeless.

    I second everything you wrote!!!

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  13. I keep forgetting to get this one, thanks for making it imperative!

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  14. Congratulations on a very good review. As they say, it's destined to be a timeless classic.

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  15. Wonderful review I loved the book too!

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  16. You did a wonderful job with this review. Definitely captured the essence of this amazing and beautiful story.

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  17. You did a fantastic job of the review and now I really want to read this book.

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  18. Great review! It makes me just want to reread this book, you reminded me why I love it so much :)

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  19. It was the acts of kindness and love in the book that moved me to tears.
    One of my favourite books read in 2008. :) Yes, it's definitely a must-read!

    Here's my review of this book. Thanks!

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  20. I've been seeing this around the web for several years and kept meaning to get it from the library. You have managed to convince me that now was a good time to put in the request in spite of my nearly topped off request list. So I should have it in a week or so.

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  21. This was a beautifully written fascinating tale, and one that shouldn't be missed even if you've seen the movie. I saw the movie after reading the book and the book is so much better!

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