Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Also reviewed by Heather.

Summary: 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 accordian-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.

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. (Summary from back of the book and image from

My Review: This was a heavy book--both literally, weighing in at 550 pages, and figuratively. Rightfully so as it deals with WWII and the Holocaust. Zusak paints pictures, stark imagery, throughout the entire book. He does a good job of making their world feel surreal to the characters as only someone living through perilous times could feel. In so doing, he depicts a surreal, scary and sometimes horrible, world to the reader.

Then there are the characters. So real. So believable. So endearing and yet, so flawed. There is no 'happy' ending, but again this is true of life that continued after so much death and loss especially in war times.

And wouldn't you like to sit down with Death after having met a character portrayed like he is in this book? I know I would. What a fascinating spin on life, or death: take your pick. What a cool idea for a narrator, specifically one that saw so much death in a short period of time.

My favorite educational aspect to this book was the emphasis on words, literacy, and reading. It accurately explains how it truly was Hitler's words that created all the pain and suffering endured by so many, most specifically the Jews. His book, Mein Kampf, was like a Bible to the German people of the time--whether because they wanted it to be or because it saved their skin by making them seem loyal. I love the stark message that words can be both beautiful and evil. Like so many things in life, if done correctly, it is a beautiful, wonderful thing. If done incorrectly, it can be painfully torturous. Language, words, the intent behind the words can change so much either to hurt or help. What a great lesson for Young Adults.

I have a hard time giving a book 5 stars that doesn't leave me wanting more, so this book would earn 4.5 from me. Having read Night, by Elie Wiesel is what I based this opinion on. Despite how awfully heartbreaking that book is, I left wanting to understand more of his plight. This book, not so much. I was done by the 550th page.

That and it seemed a bit on the excessive side with swearing, even if it was done in German most of the time. I was a bit surprised it was a Young Adult book because of this. I thoroughly enjoyed all the German (non-swearing) phrases, having studied it while in school. I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure I'll pick it up again.

Rating: 4.5 stars

In a phrase: A different spin on a Holocaust book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved this book. It has become one of my favourites. Death was an unusual narrator (character in fact); you're right...who wouldn't want to sit down for a chat? Death was surprisingly likable don't you think?


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