Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

As promised in my last post, in honour of YA Appreciation Month which is being hosted over at The Book Smugglers, I am reposting my review of this book. The review was originally posted over at Historical Tapesty in September 2007.

It is 1939, Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier and will become busier still.

Liesel Memminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel's father was taken away on the breath of a single unfamiliar world - Kommunist - and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother's eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger'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 accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife library, where ever there are books to be found.

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

The Book Thief is a story about the power of words to make worlds. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

The Book Thief is one of those books that you see overwhelmingly positive reviews for around the place. There was therefore a sense of some anticipation, but also some trepidation on starting this book because if so many people like it, it must be good right? But what if I don't? I shouldn't have worried because this was a good book - a very good book!

Just the set up of the book is intriguing, let alone the content. The narrator of the book is Death, and the setting is inside Nazi Germany during WWII. We hear from Death throughout the book, as he injects his own thoughts on life and death throughout the book. He first meets the main character of the book, Liesel, when her younger brother is dying by the sides of the train tracks. Liesel and her brother were being taken to a new foster family who live on the outskirts of Munich. With their father having already been taken away for being a Kommunist, her mother lives in fear, and has decided that it will be safer for her children to be cared for by others...just in case.

Liesel ends up living with a couple by the name of Rosa and Hans Hubermann. They have older children, boys who are off fighting the fight. Rosa is a woman with a tough exterior, but as the book goes on we find that she really has a heart of gold, and Hans is the one who shows Liesel the tenderness that she needs, the one who sits up during the night teaching Liesel to read and comforting her when she can't sleep. Along with the Hubermann's, there are also the other families who live on the street like the next door neighbour who has been feuding with Rosa Hubermann for years and the Steiners, most especially Rudy who becomes Liesel's best friend and fellow adventurer.

There are many subjects that are dealt with in this book. Death is just a few minutes away, the time it takes a bomb to fall, there are food shortages, there is the need for ordinary Germans to join the Nazi party, and the consequences of not joining, young love, loss, and for Liesel there is the thirst to read, to own books, regardless of how she comes to possess them.

Whilst the subjects sounds somewhat depressing, the observations in the novel are sharp, and there are many funny and poignant moments through out the novel. Death (the character) provides many moments where he makes fun of himself, and his own job, but without making it a complete joke. We get to see his own torment as he collects the souls of many people through out the book.

I had not read any of this author's books before, but if all of his other books are of a similar quality to this one, I will definitely be reading more!

Rating 4.5/5


  1. I thought this book was pretty good, too. I absolutely loved I Am the Messenger, and yet I ended up setting aside Getting the Girl.

  2. Awesome, thanks for the review! :)

  3. I really liked this book, and your cover is awesome! I love that cover.

    I take it this is another one to tick off the WWII reading challenge!

  4. Serena, you can mention it for the challenge, but I actually read it two years ago so I wasn't going to count it!

    Charley, I bought I am the Messenger not long after reading this one, but still haven't read it.

    Thanks for stopping by Nikola

  5. I love "The Book Thief". I liked the book so much that by the end i even liked the Narrator!- I have read and posted on two of his earlier books. "I am the Messenger" to me is very nearly as good as "The Book Thief" though less ambitious but for sure worth reading. "Getting the Girl" is more in the range of a young adult book and as such is very good. I have not yet read his first in print Book "Fighting Ruben Wolfe"
    but will I hope by year end. Thanks for the very perceptive post.

  6. I loved this too. Like Mel, above, I even ended up liking the narrator too--at times he seemed so harsh and other times sympathetic to mankind. I wish my copy had the cover you posted--much more effective than the brown cover of mine.
    Great review--

  7. I'm glad that you enjoyed this as much as I did. Death was a very interesting narrator.

  8. I've had this book on my "must read" list for a long time now. Everyone I know who has read this book has loved it. I really need to get to it. I think my 14 year old would enjoy it as well. Thanks for reminding me.

  9. i checked this book out of the library and tried to couldn't get into it! it was such a horrible feeling because all my book blogger friends were RAVING about it. i tried to read it 4 or 5 times--i even renewed it and STILL couldn't get past page 50. should i try again? i NEVER give up on books--in my whole life i've only abandoned one or two...

  10. This is one of my favorite reads this year. It may even have to go on my re-read someday list.

  11. Wow, the premise sounds really intriguing... I love narrative voices that are unique. I'm always looking for something new to read, so thanks for sharing.

    I feature some "free reads" on my blog you might be interested in :)

  12. Another book that I have yet have not read! I seem to have a lot of those :) I am really glad that you gave this one such a positive review. Both my kids read it and loved it, and I fully expect to as well. Thanks for the excellent review!

  13. I really liked this book as it moved me so much. The last few chapters were the best. I'm looking forward to reading more of his other books too! :)

  14. I just finished reading this book, and has become one of my most favorite stories ever, such an amazing way to tell a story.
    I want more!

  15. This is one of my all-time favorite books. Glad you enjoyed it, too. I'll post a link on the book reviews page on War Through the Generations.

    Diary of an Eccentric