Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Title: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published: March 14th, 2006 by Knopf Books
Format: Audio book narrated by Alan Corduner
Genre: Historical fiction
Group age: Young adult
Grade rate: A++
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
To start with a quote, this book is:
“It’s a small story really, about, among other things:
* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery”
I typically avoid historical fiction when it’s based on real wars. Why? I’m not sure myself, but it’s probably because of the toll of death and suffering that I’m sure to find. I finally picked up The Book Thief, after seeing both the previous for the movie and also after seeing so many recommendations around the book blogs and Goodreads.
I wish, not for the first time, and I’m sure it will not be the last, that I was a gifted writer. I wish that I was someone that could put into words the magic that sits between the pages of The Book Thief. Alas, since I cannot, you are stuck with this review instead. The Book Thief is, without any doubt, one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
What made this book perfection for me is Zusak’s unusual writing. Words have a meaning beyond words and feelings, they convey colors, visions, smells, pain, touch; words become concrete, tangible and above all, powerful. The narrator of Liesel’s story is Death itself. It’s not a scary book at all, it is filled with many emotions, but horror is not one of them.
Liesel has seen a lot of heartache in her short life. She is taken to a small town near Munich to foster parents just before WWII starts. Here Liesel finds a family, a best friend and words. I think words, and therefore, books, have such a big meaning for Liesel because she was deprived of both in her earlier years. She forms bonds forged in fear, love, hate,
The characterization is incredibly amazing. Rudy, Papa, Mama, Max, friends and enemies alike become alive. They are all distinct individuals with their own lives, fears and stories. I wish I could tell you more about these characters, but I don’t want to ruin the story for you. Just know that regardless of what happened, I was glad I got to meet all of you.
The Book Thief is not about the allies or the Germans or about right and wrong; it’s about how the decisions of others changed the life of many in an irreversible way. It’s about feeling and showing hate because it’s safer to do so, and the courage to do otherwise. It’s about doing the right thing when the right thing is viewed as betrayal. It’s about the power of words to change the life one girl, her adopted parents, her friends, and one Jew.
I cannot find fault with this book and I will not try to find any. As I mentioned above, the writing is sublime. The format of the book is different, as it’s divided in parts, each with a set of subtitles that might constitute chapters. Death, our narrator gives us advanced glimpses as what is to come, but I still felt the ending hit me like a punch on the face. As I listen to the final chapters of the book (and I was driving, mind you!), I cried like a baby.
I consider it my duty to tell you that if you decide to read The Book Thief, and I hope you do, please have tissues handy because there’s not getting away from crying. Even now as I think back to the story or as I selected a few quotes to include in this review, my eyes water and I have to hold back tears. That, my dear readers, is powerful. Perfection.
Some quotes for you:
“People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them."
“A small but noteworthy note. I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.”
“She said it out loud, the words distributed into a room that was full of cold air and books. Books everywhere! Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving. It was barely possible to see paintwork. There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the gray, the every-colored books. It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen.
With wonder, she smiled.
That such a room existed!”
“I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race - that rarely do I even simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant...I AM HAUNTED BY HUMANS.”
About the Cover: This is probably the only bad thing about the book. It’s uninspiring and not relevant.
Have you read the Book Thief? Have you seen the movie yet? Do you like bookd/movies about wars? Why or why not?