Friday, January 13, 2012

The Book Thief - Review

Title: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Release Date: March 14, 2006

Format/Page Count: Kindle Edition, 540 pages

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Purchased: Amazon

Synopsis: 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.

Expectation: Over the years, I've heard a lot of good things about this book. But I never actually saw a copy anywhere. I know...I must have been living under a rock. Well, thanks to Twitter...I was reminded to look it up. Once I read a couple reviews, my expectation grew. I was also a little leery, because of the narrator. I didn't know if I wanted to read a book as told to me by death. 

Market/Genre: I will call this Young Adult/Literary


I will readily admit that I was annoyed before I even 'cracked the cover' of the Kindle book. I just didn't have a lot of faith in the narrator of this tale. Yes...the narrator is DEATH itself. Sometimes I really want to read a book, but go in with a bias because of a small detail I don't think will fly (bad habit).

It worked. Death was a reliable narrator (except for the irritating giveaways!). Zusak knew what he was doing.

The unique thing about The Book Thief is that it tells a story of the Holocaust from the perspective of the Germans & the Jews. And not just the Nazi Germans, but the sympathetic ones who hated the Fuhrer. The perspective of death made it even more interesting. Listening to death itself tell you how simultaneously beautiful and despicable the human race is... kind of works for me.

The main character, our book thief, is a nine-year old orphan named Liesel. At the opening of the story, it's safe to say that she is at an ultra low point in her young life. In one instant her brother dies, in the next her mother is leaving her an orphan in the hopes of giving her a better life. She soon arrives at the house of an anti-Nazi house painter with a huge heart, and his tyrannical 'wardrobe' of a wife (who, please don't be fooled, also has a huge heart). Liesel is to call Hans and Rosa Hubermann Mamma and Papa. So begins the second life of Liesel Meminger.

In Liesel's second life, she lives on Himmel Street (Heaven Street?). Her neighbour and best friend, Rudy, just wants one thing from her. A KISS. At times I wanted to hit her...just give him the kiss already. The payout on the wait, though, was well worth it. The reader will enjoy the mischief that these two get into along the way. It seems there are so many aspects to this young girl. She is serious, thoughtful, introspective, thieving, hating, loving...just a well-rounded character that we get to see in so many different roles throughout the book.

As it turns out, Liesel's foster father has a debt to pay a man who saved his life in the first war. In order to pay off his debt, he has to do something that could potentially threaten the lives of his entire household. But Hans does it without batting an eye. He is a man of of the kindest fictional characters I've come upon in a good long while.

What is this thing that Hans has to do? He takes in Max, the Jewish son of the man who saved his life. He told the man's wife that if there was anything he could ever do for her, to let him know. At the time, he could not foresee that the thing he would be doing is harbouring a Jew in his basement. But when Max shows up on Himmel Street, that is exactly what happens. He becomes a resident of the Hubermanns' basement.

Max is a wonderful character. Perhaps my favourite character in the book. He is somewhat understated. The stories he writes and draws out for Liesel are so wonderful! He is a passionate and compassionate man who falls in love with the little girl who becomes somewhat of a constant companion in his loneliness.

In one of Max's stories, THE WORD SHAKER, he tells a wonderful parable about the power of words. In the story, he shows how the Fuhrer uses words in a horrible way and how a little girl uses them in a wonderful way. It's a playful story that cracks Liesel's world wide open.

The reader is guaranteed to fall in love with Liesel, her foster parents, her friend and the neighbours who share the sad little street on which they live. And they will definitely fall in love with Max. But be prepared to be manipulated by the narrator.

There is so much to say about this sprawling book. The gist of it is the celebration of humanity, though. Even though Death did quite an impressive job narrating, it was still a bit jarring hearing about events before they happened in the narrative of the story. Death just would not shut up about the outcome. It was like a kind of bravado to say, "oh...this will happen in the end, but wait...lets hear the story that will take you there." I didn't want to know the details Death was giving me. I would have been patient enough to find them out in the natural flow of the story. For this reason, I feel the need to knock a star off the rating. But, otherwise, I honestly LOVED The Book Thief. It was filled with thought-provoking compassion and insights into the human mind. I'd call it a must read that takes the reader deeply and darkly into the darkest period of human history.

My expectation was exceeded yet again. I'm having a great streak of finding books to love. I loved this book. I do think it could have been a bit shorter...but God help me, I can't think of anything I would want to cut. As a writer, what I loved most about it was the loud and clear message about the POWER OF WORDS.

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