Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

The Plot: I usually write this up myself, but couldn't do it justice. So I borrow from the Book Description provided by the publisher:

It’s just 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. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel 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 before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

The Good: It's narrated by Death, so of course it has an interesting voice. A friend of mine, Maria, was recommending this book, and was asked, "yes, but does anyone die in it?" and Maria replied "It's about World War II. Several main characters die." This is not a spoiler; Death himself is very clear on this point: "You are going to die."

Because until there's a cure for death, it's going to happen to everyone. Somehow. Somewhere. Sometime.

But still... the death here is overwhelming. As it should be, in a story about war. In a story about life.

But let's concentrate on something other than death; because as Maria explained, "it's moving and really life affirming."

Sometimes the only way to value life is to be reminded just how fragile it is. In that way, this reminded me of Six Feet Under.

But on to the book:

Liesel's foster father is Hans Huberman; and let me say, how nice it was to have a father figure who is a truly good man. Not a molester or monster or pedophile, but a good, kind man; maybe not very rich; maybe coarse; but good. Rosa, the mother, is almost more complex than Hans; someone who on the surface would be labelled as abusive, but is a caring woman who does not express it in the words we use today, but shows it again and again in her actions. And Liesel and Hans understand this about Rosa.

There is no romance of childhood; no looking down at adulthood; it is also astonishing, in the way it portrays what would today be called abusive parents, as loving parents. Most modern books would equate Rosa's roughness and hitting with no love; would equate it with hate; would say that only one type of parental love is acceptable. TBL recognizes seeing where love is, in all its many places, both pretty and rough, expected and unexpected, rather than insisting love come in only one flavor, one emotion, one thought.

Rosa Huberman loves; loves without words; and gives Liesl a gift of love and happiness. Even tho it is all unspoken.

There's been some debate as to whether this is truly a YA book or an adult book. I say adult, because rather than being in the time of childhood, it's a look back with adult knowledge, wisdom, and nostalgia: "She even allowed herself a laugh. Eleven year old paranoia was powerful. Eleven year old relief was euphoria." and "I think that's as close to love as eleven year olds can get." Perhaps this is because Death is telling the story and death is clearly an adult (compare to Love Curse of the Rumbaughs; even tho the narrator there tells the story, when she speaks of the past she sees and speaks and comments as a child or a teen; not so, here it is always Death.)

But, it could also be YA; Death is the narrator and many teens have such a flirtation with the idea of death. (Yes; look at the recent flurry of books such as A Certain Slant of Light and Elsewhere that tell the story of death). As I read this I couldn't help but remember, Darkling I listen; and, for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call'd him soft names in many a mus├Ęd rhyme,To take into the air my quiet breath. This fascination with Death makes it very much a book with teen appeal.

Oh, and another thing: I prefer the Australian cover.

I have to give more quotes because I love the writing:

"Even death has a heart."

"He died in a train. They buried him in the snow."

"Stealing it, on the other hand, seemed a little more acceptable."

"Liesl was exercising the blatant right of every person who's ever belonged to a family. It's all very well for such a person to whine and moan and criticize other family members, but they won't let anyone else do it. That's when you get your back up and show loyalty."

"Her whole death was now ahead of her."

And Rudy. I write this review months after the book is over, this fiction book about not real people, and my heart breaks for Rudy all over again. "He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It's his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry."

"I am haunted by humans."

Needless to's one of my Best Books.


Little Willow said...

I rarely am brought to tears by stories (films, TV, plays, books). This book brought me to tears more than once. I cried for Rudy.

I read this book shortly after a very painful personal loss. Everything hurt (and still does) but this book was removed enough from my life - time period - location - that I didn't equate the two.

I have so many favorite quotes from this book. I submitted many of them to Journey Woman's recent best passages contest.

I too think this book could be shelved in adult fiction here in the US as it is in Zusak's native Australia.

I really enjoyed A Certain Slant of Light. So, so much. The writing was gorgeous. It made me think of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.*

Elsewhere was all right. Lighter than I thought it was going to be.

I want Everlost by Neal Shusterman and I want it NOW.

* I love the film and like the book. I recommend both of those items to you, as well as Where I Want to Be by Adele Griffin.

Anonymous said...

Excellent review! I totally agree about the writing. I included lots of quotes in my review, too. It's simply irresistible. And I'm with you on both Hans and Rosa, too. You start out thinking that Rosa isn't a good person, but you slowly learn that she is. It's very powerful.

I like the movie of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I didn't even know that there was a book. I'll have to look for that.

Brian Farrey said...

I can't even tell you how much I heart this book. If it doesn't win the Printz, there is no God.

Anonymous said...

I'm probably biased because I read Book Thief here in Australia where it was marketed as an adult book, but I agree with you that it's more an adult book because of the narration. It has more of a "To kill a mocking bird" flavour about it than an YA book.

(I don't know if I've posted here before - I really enjoy reading your blog!)

Anonymous said...

The other night I went with one of my friends to our local library where Markus Zusak was speaking about the Book Thief. It was amazing. I also agree that this is one of THE best books! I love how it is so superbly written. It too made me cry. About the intended audience, I think that it is both YA and adult, but whoever reads it reads it, and if they love it then it was meant for them.

Anonymous said...

This is such a good book.
Ah, Rudy. Dear Rudy. I completely agree with you. By the time I finished with it, my eyes were sore and red, my glasses were splotched with tears, and I was smiling wettily through my tears at my flabbergasted siblings.
This is a sad book, but with a (sort of, compared to the rest of the book) happy ending, which is one of the best kinds.
I am thirteen, by the way. My sixteen year old sister started reading it, but lost interest.

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog looking up stuff about The Book Thief. It was an amazing book. My 14 year old sister read it and loved it and recommend it to me (I'm 22). We both loved it. One of the most powerful books I have ever read if not the most.

Anonymous said...

im 17 years old. I read the book as part of my english class. In the begining of it i will admit i was quite confussed by death narrating the book, but as i read futher it begain to make more sense. I started to get wrapped up in the stories. Its a very moving book, makes you really think about what times were like durring the war. The characters were well written and i feel in love with them all. Really enjoyed this book, esspecially with the stories that Max wrote for Liseal.

A Book Lover said...

I loved this book. There were so many quotes that I found incredibly meaningful to me. The metaphors were astounding, and just the overall way the book was written drew me in. I cried when Rudy died, and when everyone except Liesel and Max died. Nazi Germany was portrayed extremely well. It was a stellar book; my favorite book of all time.

Mahalia R-D said...

Sorry, I have a lot to say about the Book Thief. I am 13, I have only just finished this book, and it has to be my favourite so far. At first, the book was gripping, but then after that all the excitement was gone for a while and it was set all over the place. Though it had it's moments, I considered not finishing it and returning it to the library...Luckily my school librarian was on holidays and it wasn't open. I am so glad. The final part of this book is so powerful. I cried the whole way through. And that line;
"He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It's his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry." What is it about that line? I cried even harder just from that.
So in short, it is a powerful story, with characters I doubt I will forget, and it is written poetically without seeming strained and overdone, which not many writers can do. All my favourite quotes are from this book. Congrats to Mr. Zusak.

Liz B said...

What better indication about how a book touches the reader than this? That years after a post are made, people who have read the book find this post and comment to share what it meanst to them.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I am 17. I look around the world and see destruction, confusion, pain. When i read this book my eyes filled with tears, then not only i did i see the bad, but the good that also filled this world. There might be hope at the end of the tunnel. He is a brilliant writer, and a fantastic word magician.

I adore every line of text, i found my self crying through at least the last four chapters, and reading it aloud to my self in my room.

Positively the best book i have ever read. I loved that this book was a different type of description of WWII than most. It left you full and satisfied.

I especially loved the passage about death sitting on top the crematorium catching, and cradling lost souls in soft arms and kissing each and every one.

A beautiful book.

Matt said...

The most meaningful book I've ever read in so many aspects. I cried at the end, the first time I've ever done so during the reading of a book. At the time I felt very close to the main characters Rudy and Liesel because they reminded me very much of how me and my girlfriend joked around with one another. All in all, the best novel I've had the pleasure of reading.

Liz B said...

I love that a book like this has legs and people continue to discover it. I was recently at a meeting of senior citizens and they were all raving about this book!

Anonymous said...

I just finished this book yesterday, and I still feel it's effect on me. It is, in some ways the most horrible and brutal book I've ever read. But It is one of the most beautiful too.

I actually found myself reading Max's stories aloud. I don't know why, it just seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe, its because I knew that's how Liesel was reading it.

One of the things that struck me most about this book was the irony. Had his parents let him go to the school, Rudy would have survived. Hans luckily escaped death, only to be killed a week later. Maybe if he wasn't so nice, he wouldn't have been allowed home and he might of lived. Liesel claimed she hated words and that they were good for nothing. Yet it was words that saved her life, as she was in the basement writing when the bomb fell.

I loved this book.

Sandra said...

i love this author, not particularly the story, although it was good too. i had to read this story 4 novel study @ school