Saturday, October 5, 2013

Book Review - The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Pages: 550
Publisher: Knopf Books
Genre: YA/Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 Stars

"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."

I have been seriously slacking on my review writing (seriously slacking; it's unforgivable, and I apologize), choosing instead to write a one -or -two-line summary on GoodReads with the promise of a review to come that never does, but this one...this one needs a review. It may not be as in-depth as you're used to from me, nor as long, but I'm going to do my best to capture what my reading experience was.

I first read The Book Thief back in '08, when I was the tender age of seventeen. I was an avid reader even then, of course, but what you must understand about me is that my standards have grown and my tastes have changed. I was still in my Twilight-obsessed phase when I first read TBT. I'm not proud of it, but there you have it; I was more interested in reading about immortal hotties that bordered pedophiles, angsty love-triangle drama, and boring, overused plotlines heavy on the kissing than I was in a beautiful, slowly unfolding, utterly heartbreaking story of a young girl growing up in one of the worst decades of history, and the people she loved and lost and the words that inspired and nurtured her. So when I first read this book, I liked it, but I in no way was able to fully appreciate the magnificence of it, both subtle and obvious. Hence the bump from a four-star rating to a five.

There is so much to love about this book, from the experimental but totally effective choice of having Death itself narrate, to the jaw-dropping metaphors and descriptions, to the characters that breathe life into the pages and steal a not-so-little piece of your heart by book's end. I adore Liesel. Her determination to learn in the beginning, her tenacity despite all that she had lost at such a young age, touched me in a way very few fictional characters are capable of. She loves words, and a common overall theme of this novel is the power they have to sway us; to soothe or to enrage, to help or to manipulate. The wonderful thing about this is that Zusak doesn't just tell us through Liesel's life or adventures, but he shows us with his own words, with the way he crafts each page like a master artist, etching images and emotions into our minds with every elegant sentence. It's amazing and awe-inspiring, and by the time I reached the following lines on page 80, I knew I was irrevocably attached to this book.

"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."

Can't you just taste the significance of that? In a small handful of words, Zusak instills in us the passion of his protagonist, the power of her words, and the simple majesty of both. It sends chills through me every single time I read those four lines, and they are only four among many that have the same effect. This is exactly why I love words so much. Reading them, writing them, learning them and manipulating them to create something new and beautiful. There is so much power simply in words. The Book Thief is one of the best examples of this that I could possibly give.

In addition to the theme and use of powerful words, we're given a taste of the past, when Adolf Hitler had Germany wrapped around his warped ideas and hatreds. We're put into the minds not of the poor souls persecuted by his prejudices, but of the Germans themselves. We're shown that Jewish people weren't the only ones to suffer under Hitler's reign, but his very own people had to endure hardships and loss and heartbreak due to his villainous war as well. Liesel and her neighbors on Himmel Street are such people. Her adoptive Mama and Papa, the Jewish Max they take into their home at great personal risk, and her best friend Rudy Steiner are some of the most realized, distinct, lovable characters I've read in recent years. Mama, with her crass tongue and brusque manner, but also a heart bigger than most; Papa, with his accordion and cigarettes, the light in his eyes that makes him seem more alive than anyone else in the room, and a deep kindness that brings tears to the eyes; Max, a guilt-ridden man full of tenacity and gratitude who is just trying to stay alive; and Rudy Steiner, who bleeds passion and sincerity and loyalty and love. Gah, I'm getting emotional just reliving the characters through this review.

An important thing to take away from this review and to know when you first pick up the book is that it is not a happy story. In fact, it's about as far from a happy story as it can get. There is death. There is tragedy. You will grow attached to characters that you lose, and you will cry for what others have to endure. That's a fact. Though the narrator Death does a good enough job of it, I won't give out further spoilers, but it's imperative to know before you go in that you won't be coming out a happier person. But you'll love every second of misery you endure, treasure every memory of a lost character, and hold this story close to your heart for years to come.

It has been hailed as a future classic, and I have absolutely no trouble believing that prediction. The Book Thief is a roller-coaster of emotion that will leave you reeling.


  1. Glad to see you posting again Kelly, I miss you! I haven't read the Book Thief yet but I bought a copy a few months ago. I really, really, really need to make time to read it as I think I'll love it.
    I love a good dose of misery in my books and I know enough to expect that here but I'm looking forward to that in a perverted kind of way :) Great review as always.

  2. I'm glad to see you enjoyed it more after the re-read. I've certainly learned that reading tastes change through years--sometimes a much-loved book becomes not so great after a re-read some years later, and vice versa. :) This book is probably going to be in my top five faves for life. And I agree about its potential to go down as a classic in the future. Also, after reading and loving Zusak's other book "I Am The Messenger" I'm sure to pick up every book he ever releases because damn he can write. =D

    I really can't wait to see this movie. Carrying a whole box of tissues in the theater with me I swear.

    I hope you get back to blogging regularly soon, btw. <3


  3. I've never read The Book Thief but i have been hearing a lot of good things about this book from my friends. I have made a promise to myself that i won,t watch the movie
    until i finish reading the book. After reading your review i got inspired to pick up this book and not to stop reading until I finished it,which by the way I bought few months back and its been lying there on my bookshelf .And Gr8 review by the way.
    Thank you so much!

  4. Hello! I find your blog very interesting so that I just started following it with Google Friend Contact app.
    Could you follow me back? Cheers! :D


As you may or may not know, life is eating up way too much of my spare time right now, so pretty please don't hate me if it takes me a few days to get back to your wonderful comments. I read each and every one from my phone, and they always make my day. <3