Monday, December 3, 2018

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Author: Markus Zusak
Series: N/A
Audience: +16
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date: March 14th 2006
My Rating: 3.5 Cups
Source: Own Copy
Blurb (from Goodreads):
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

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 behind 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.

One of the most featured books I've seen over the last couple of years in the bookish community is The Book Thief. I even heard about it from people not in the book community, people that have read this book and loved it, cried because of it. The one thing most of these people mentioned, the thing that got my attention in the first place, was that it was a story narrated by Death. How could I not read a book told by Death? This year, I finally managed to read it, thanks to Samantha from Thoughts on Tomes and her Tome Topple Readathon.

The Book Thief tells the emotional story of a German girl and her adoptive family during War World II. It's a heartbreaking story of death, fear, courage and recklessness. I wanted to be overwhelmed by this book, I wanted to feel this story in my bones, I wanted to cry. I expected to cry. That's not what happened for me, unfortunately. There was a lot of great things happening in this book. First of all, the idea that Death tells a story in which "she" is "haunted by people", and in which she becomes interested in the lives of humans is very intriguing to me. Life seen through the eyes of Death is one of my favorite subjects, which is why I love vampire stories so much. The same thing happened here, you see flashes of regular life as seen by the entity that represents the end of life as we know it. The idea that Death is not a monster, but a savior of sorts, also makes sense, given the subject of war. Death doesn't act like a monster, instead she somehow helps human souls evade the pain and suffering they would otherwise have to face. Then there were a few characters I was interested in, none of whom, strangely, are Liesel, the heroine of this book.

I loved Liesel's adoptive father, Hans Hubermann. He was such a calming presence, a strong, but quiet giant. His love for Liesel is evident even from the start, from the moment she comes into his home. He stays with her when her nightmares come, he teaches her how to read, he soothes her. He and his wife make a truly unlikely couple, with him being the calm to her storm. He is gentle, quiet, while Rosa is rude, loud, angry. I really thought Death would have been more fascinated by Hans, rather than Liesel, because he is the one that managed to evade Death for so long, in both wars.

Then there's Rudy, the next door neighbor. Rudy is a young boy that befriends Liesel, and becomes her best friend and partner in crime, and also develops a crush on her. It was hard for me not to want to spend more time reading about Rudy, because he was absolutely charming. He was daring, smart beyond his years, and very, very brave. I don't know if his bravery was born out of his need to impress his new friend, or if he'd always been like that, but I absolutely loved reading about him.

Max was fantastic. Max is the son of an old friend of Hans, the person responsible for Hans being alive in this story in the first place. Max is a Jew, and like many other Jews he is trying to survive the regime, to find a safe place to hide in and hope that the atrocities will end. He is helped by the Hubermanns, mostly out of a sense of duty to his late father, and kept safe. They fed him, nursed him back to health, gave him a place to stay safe. Max and Liesel form a beautiful friendship, and they both save each other in a way. Then something happens that makes the story turn a very dark corner.

It wasn't surprising that Hans would help him, but his wife Rosa surprised me. She kind of reminded me a bit of Petunia Dursley in the beginning, and it took me a while to get used to her prickly exterior and her rough behavior. I wasn't always sure if she was just an angry woman, or if she didn't know how to show her love. Then there were certain scenes, brief scenes, in which her walls were completely down and a vulnerable, loving, caring Rosa emerged. I wanted more of that Rosa to shine through, but I think she became this prickly because of the daily hardships she and her family had to go through. Being poor and barely having anything to eat is definitely enough reason to become somewhat angry at the world.

The main reason I didn't love this book as much as I wanted to was the writing style. It took me about 200 pages for me to actually get used to the writing style enough to enjoy the story. At first I thought it was a translation issue, but I searched online for excerpts and the same thing happens with the English version: the phrases are too choppy for me, too short.

I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.

Source: Goodreads
I've always struggled with this type of phrasing, because it seems choppy, like the scenes it's trying to invoke are just mere flashes. The writing didn't flow for me, it pulled me from the story many, many times and for a while I wanted to DNF this book just because of this reason. I'll be honest, I was forced on bed rest because of my back pain for a few days and that is the only reason why I pushed through and managed to finish reading this book. I was also uncertain who the narrator was. I know that at times it was Death, but if Death met Liesel only three times, it's difficult to understand how Death knew so many intimate details about them. It might seem like I'm grasping at straws here, but a lot of times I was confused and didn't know if this narrator was reliable or not.

Another reason why I didn't enjoy this book as much as everyone else is that I felt that the story dragged on a little too much, focused on unimportant events or even characters. I didn't understand why Liesel was so important when the story is full of amazing characters. Death couldn't have known the ending, so it's hard to imagine that that is the reason for this obsession. The ending was heartbreaking, yes, but a few things didn't make sense to me. Or maybe since Death is the narrator, they make more sense, I'm not completely sure.

Ultimately, while I did find the book interesting and I did enjoy reading it, I wouldn't call it earth shattering or life changing. It did however made me want to read more WWII books, so maybe that's the best part of reading this book.


  1. I'm pretty sure I've read this book (it sounds so familiar to me especially the plot) but I'm definitely going to buy it! I totally know what you mean about translation books, I've read other translated books and it can be quite difficult because it doesn't translate perfectly, but it's such a shame you didn't fully love and enjoy this book.

    Love, Amie ❤
    The Curvaceous Vegan

  2. I loved The Book Thief so much, while it was a solid 5/5 for me, I can totally see what you meant by the slightly choppy sentences as well as it being sort of a slow burn. I'm glad that you enjoyed it somewhat and that it also encouraged you to read more WWII books! Thanks for sharing x

  3. I’ve got this book, it’s been in my library for so long and I haven’t had a chance to read it due to uni reading and assignments, I think after this post I might just pick it up over the X-mas period and finally read it!

    Charlene McElhinney

  4. I read this a while ago and remember really enjoying it but now I'm reading your review and it's making me realise I really can't remember much about the narration style etc. Might have to go back to re-read and see if I did love it or whether I've just heard so many positive things that I've convinced myself I loved it. Anyway, really great review.

  5. Great review! This is a book I have seen everywhere yet never really looked into it. I am generally wary of super hyped titles like this because I feel like they never live up to my expectations and I wind up bitter, lol.

  6. This is one of my all time favorite book. And I am disappointed that you didn't love it as much as I did! But to each her own, right?

    Gayathri @ Elgee Writes


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