Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The first time I tried to read this book I was disappointed. Not because it was a disappointing book itself exactly, but because my expectations and ideas of what it was were all wrong. I got distracted with another book, and set it aside for when I would be in a better frame of mind. But it was recommended to me by someone who has earned my trust with books (looking at you, Carrie), and she also said it took her two tries. Because of this, and because I didn’t dislike it, I was just surprised by it, I decided to give it another try.

It sounds interesting enough. Here’s the cover description, for anyone who may not know this book.

Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can’t resist – books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever they are to be found. With the help of her accordion playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. Markus Zusak…has crafted an unforgettable novel about the ability of books to feed the soul.

And after two back-to-back disappointing, DNF’s (did-not-finish) from my reading list, I was absolutely determined I would finish this story. I couldn’t be happier I did. If I may corrupt a quote from another book, I fell in love with The Book Thief slowly, and then all at once.

The narration by Death, is not at all depressing or overpowering. He is tired, jaded, a bit self-righteous and snarky at times, but his moments of tenderness are what stuck in my mind. And this isn’t really Death’s story anyway. He’s simply telling the story of one of the humans whose life continually intersected with his in WWII-era Germany.

Liesel has lost so much by the time she comes to her foster parents. They take in a scared and traumatized little girl, and slowly she learns the feeling of love again. Her foster father was an incredibly powerful character. The time and love he spent on that little girl was touching. She truly was his daughter. And even her harsh and demanding foster mother constantly showed her love through her actions to Liesel.

I was about a third of the way into the book before I finally got truly hooked. The adventures and crises that she goes through with the boy next door helped break some of the tension of the war and the persecution of the Jews. From street soccer and track meets, to running with a gang of thieves, they have moments of joy and even at times the semblance of a normal childhood.

But after finishing this book, it didn’t seem to me that this book was even really about Liesel as a character. Not in the way a book like Anne of Green Gables, is truly about Anne. In some ways it seemed more like the story of a time and a way of life, an entire group of people, and the struggles the war brought to Germany. Liesel was living in a story. But the story was more than Liesel. It was more than falling in love with a main character and caring about what happens to them, or simply following behind them as they live their story. It was living her life with her. You walk in Liesel's shoes, and live her life as she lived it.

The writing was excellent. I know some people feel that Zusak’s prose was too flowery and metaphors and descriptions at times made no sense, but it worked for me. It didn’t feel forced, and at times it lent extra drama to the setting, at times it softened it. The only thing that was hard for me, was frequently throughout the story, Zusak stops the normal narration flow, and adds a comment/fact/list in the middle of the page IN BIG BOLD LETTERS, before returning to the story.


1. This was very jarring to me.

2. It felt completely unnecessary.

3. I liked the book anyway.

 But thankfully by the time I was about a third of the way into it, they were fewer and farther in between, and I had kind of learned to tune them out. Maybe it’s just me, but it felt like being shouted at, or having a neon sign flashed in my face. Still, it wasn’t enough to spoil my enjoyment.

I have to say, this book is definitely not for children. It’s YA and up, simply because of the violence and gore, the language (which was more than I like), and the subject matters dealt with (thievery, concentration camps, persecution, death, etc.).

I can’t assume everyone will like this book, but I have to say I think it’s definitely one you should at least try. It’s a perspective on the war that I’d never read before (and when I say this I mean the perspective of a young German girl – not Death) and never even really thought about. And beyond that, it’s just a darn good story, with an excellent, though somewhat sad ending.

There were many quotes I loved in this book. Here are just a few.

When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything.

She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.

Sometimes she sat against the wall, longing for the warm finger of paint to wander just once more down the side of her nose, or to watch the sandpaper texture of her papa’s hands. If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter and bread with only the scent of jam spread out on top of it. It was the best time of her life.

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