Monday, July 22, 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Publication Date: September 1, 2005
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 550
Synopsis (from back of the book because I like it better than the Goodreads one): It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.

Review: I don't know how to start this review. But I do know that this is probably going to be looooong. Be prepared, and if you make it to the end of the review, I seriously love you. I guess I'll first list my initial thoughts while reading this book.

   Initial thoughts:

  • The narrator is... Death? What? That's cool.
  • I feel no attachment to Liesel. 
  • Liesel is so selfish.
  • Markus Zusak, your writing style is definitely strange.
  • Where is the plot? Honestly!
   As said, those were my initial thoughts. My initial thoughts are extremely different from my final ones. Here's a little hint on how I feel about this book: I stayed up reading this book, shed so many tears that the rhythm of the droplets hitting my blanket began to resemble a soft drum beat, and upon finishing the book, stayed awake for perhaps an hour before closing my eyes long enough to fall asleep. 

   I'm going to be honest and say that if The Book Thief wasn't my required reading for school this upcoming year, I would have probably dropped it and never looked back. The first half of the novel (and I seriously mean the first half! I wasn't invested until well over 200 pages in) was dull, in my opinion. I felt like there was no urge for me to keep reading. I couldn't identify the main plot, nor did I have an ounce of desire to follow the rest of Liesel's story. Thank goodness to BookTube-a-thon (a YouTube readathon) and the fact that it's my summer reading, otherwise, I probably wouldn't have finished this book. I was honestly spending weeks on this one book that everyone had praised so, so much. That's another thing: everyone under the sun seems to be obsessed with this book, and when I started reading, I felt so left out because I couldn't understand the hype at all. 

   Liesel was a character I didn't like for a long time before slowly changing my mind. I think this was because the protagonist and the narrator are not one and the same. The narrator is Death himself which I thought was a really great and unique idea. However, because of this, I felt distant when it came to Liesel. I was receiving her story second-hand and I didn't have an emotional connection to her. On several occasions, I found her extremely selfish, and in turn, found myself disliking her. 

   This all changed around half-way in. Something changed for me. There was a plot suddenly. Liesel developed as a character. Of course, she still had flaws, but there was more to her than the things I disliked. Her relationships with all the characters suddenly glowed right in my face. I especially loved the development of Hans Hubermann, Liesel's foster father, and Max Vandenburg, the Jew they hide in their basement. Both characters were so compelling to read about, I just loved them. And, of course, I absolutely adored Rudy Steiner. 

   After finishing the book, I understand now. I understand why so many people love and praise this novel. I see the investment that people put into this book. Based on my experience, after finishing the book, I felt like I had lost a piece of my soul within the 550 pages. The ending of this novel affected me so much. I had no idea this book could do that to me, especially after such a rocky start. 

   Back to Death as a narrator. (Sorry for the lack of organization in this review. So many scattered thoughts!) I found it unique, but I feel like there were flaws. (Obviously not everyone will agree with me on this.) I thought that Death was an inconsistent narrator. There are times when he makes snarky comments, and there are other times where his monologue-ish thoughts are really mushy. And when it came to the plot, it was the most non-linear plot I've ever encountered. Death likes to jump back and forth, revealing spoilers that will happen in a few years or a few months, and then he goes back in time. He tells you what's going to happen and then goes back to lead up to it. I don't exactly know how I felt about that. 

   As mentioned before, Markus Zusak's writing is strange. Honestly, I can't think of a better word to fit his writing style. I'm sure many readers are eager to label Zusak's writing as "beautiful" and "poetic," which in some cases, is very, very true! Please don't get me wrong. But at other times, he makes the strangest analogies. His figurative language ranges from "wow, that was breathtaking" to "how does that even make sense." My friend fell in love with Zusak's prose, as many other readers did, but I'm not a quick fan. Some things were just so weirdly worded, or the analogies were so far-fetched, that I couldn't help but choose strange over beautiful

   I think that's all I wanted to mention. I understand that this review is ridiculously lengthy. There is just so much I had to say about this novel. Based on my reading experience, The Book Thief is a certain kind of gem that needs a bit of polish before you can see its beauty. But once the dirt is gone, prepare to be blinded by how this novel shines.

   4.5 keys.


  1. It did take me an awfully long time to get into this book too, maybe because of the focus of the story, but like you I'm so glad that I decided to stick with it, as I ended up loving it! Zusak's writing is definitely something. Gorgeous review Sophia! :)

  2. Gosh I couldn't even review this book myself. I completely understand the whirlwind of thoughts! The first half of your post had me worried, but I'm so thrilled and relieved to see you connected with it after a while. I definitely thought having death as the narrator was an original move - but I do appreciate how that might have distanced Liesl from you to begin with. You're right, this book is a true gem. Fantastic review, Sophia!

  3. One of my favorite things about reading is finding a book that I'm not sure of at first and sticking with it and finding a huge pay off. It's been so long since I read THE BOOK THIEF, but I remember being completely enamored by the story. This is such a great, honest review!

  4. I'm so curious to read this book now! This book has been so hyped and honestly, I'm intimidated to read it. It sucks that the first half had no plot and a sucky main character. However, it must be pretty amazing for the book to pick up so quickly and end on a beautiful note! I'm wondering what I'll think of Zusak's writing style. Anyway, I'm glad you ended up loving this one, lovely review, Sophia!

  5. This does sound like an original and compelling read. I have a feeling it's tragic as well. Nice that you loved it so with it being required reading! How often does that happen, right? Wonderful review, Sophia! :)

  6. I haven't read this one but so many people seem to love it. I think your review, Sophia, has given me a better idea of what to expect from it though. If I find myself picking this one up and not being invested in the story right away, I'll keep at it because I'm sure that in the end I'll love it too. Thanks, Sophia!

  7. Still need to read this and it's hard because I feel like everyone says the most amazing and profound things about this one that I'm nervous it can't possibly live up to my expectations! But I think if I take into account some of your issues mentioned in this review - that the beginning is very slow, the narration is a bit inconsistent, etc. - I can bring my expectations down a tiny bit and appreciate the story more when the time comes for it. Love this rambly, scattered review!

  8. Our school library is the best, we might be getting the author into school to have an interview, hopefully we do then it will be up on my blog! Yay, great review!


  9. Oh, you are all children . THAT explains your comments
    Please, Please read good books before you are much older? Off the cuff Margaret Attwood, Ian McEwan... any author where the characters are not just black and white; where you do not see the Good Guys a mile off and the Bad Guys smell from a distance. Please read a book that do not have to tell you every 2 pages what you should be thinking, what comes next, what has just happened – it is all just so condescending?

  10. I recommend this to any one who has an open mind. You can really understand it when you imagine yourself in Leisel's shoes because the descriptions are so amazing it is possible to find yourself walking on Himmel Street.
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  11. i had a similar feeling about 'strangeness' of writer trying to put on this book, it has to be death in person, and it can be part of personal taste, a fiction, and to the end, honest, i like the first few pages and the last few, in the middle, i was bewildered. it is a good book, i think i will re-read some years after.

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