20 December 2009

The Book Thief

I am not sure how to describe Markus Zusak's amazing novel The Book Thief. I could tell you that this superb, beautiful book is the coming-of-age story, as narrated by Death, of Liesel Meminger, a foster child in Nazi Germany who is obsessed with reading and whose family shelters a Jewish boxer from the authorities. And that would all be true. But I much prefer Death's own description from the prologue: "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..." This quote perfectly captures the quirky, wry nature of this book.

PIA recommended The Book Thief to me a couple of months ago, and Penguins Quack assured me that this was an excellent book a couple of weeks later when I mentioned on Sparklife that I was reading it. (A big thank you to both of you!) That delighted me because the subject matter already had me intrigued. (Remember in my review of Sashenka when I said one of the periods of history I planned to specialize in was The Russian Revolution? Well, Nazi Germany is the other. My mother's family is German Jewish and I've always been both mortified and fascinated with this historical period.) Fortunately, my excitement about reading this book was completely justified. The Book Thief did not let me down!

I adored this novel! This book reminds me of To Kill A Mocking bird and Life of Pi. As with these two novels, The Book Thief features a compelling coming of age tale, a strong protagonist, and an offbeat plot. I especially loved the narration, which is simultaneously hauntingly lyrical and sardonically conversational. Death has a distinctive, witty voice which greatly enhances the appeal of this novel. I also loved the pacing. This book is big (550+ pages), but I was never once bored. The Book Thief is alternately hilarious and sorrowful, but it's never slow. (You will not put it down. I was so taken in by the story that I snuck this book into a shoe store with me and read it.) The historical details of this novel also impressed me. Zusak portrays the little-seen world of ordinary working class Germans during WWII vividly.

My favorite part of this book, though, was the characters. Liesel is one of the most likable, realistic, and complex female protagonists that I've ever encountered and I loved her. (Her freakish obsession with books was another reason as well!) As great as Liesel is, the rich cast of colorful supporting characters are just as intriguing. You will not soon forget Hans, her kindhearted foster father; Rosa, her foulmouthed foster mother; Rudy, her mischievous best friend; Max, the determined Jew Liesel's family courageously shelters; and Death, the eccentric narrator who will surpass all of your preconceived notions about the Grim Reaper. I usually dislike fiction about this period because the characters are often so one-dimensional, especially if they're German. (It's as if authors believe that all Germans during WWII were devilish Nazi fiends or noble superhuman resistors. If you've ever read Gitta Sereny's powerful, disturbing nonfiction book Into that Darkness, you would know the situation was far more complex than that and is all the more troubling because of it.)

I have nothing but praise for this book, but I will warn you: You will cry at the end. I dare you not to. I sobbed for ten minutes and still have not fully recovered. Not that this book is unrelentingly melancholy. It isn't. In fact, The Book Thief is hilarious in many parts and has an essentially uplifting message. But after getting to know these characters, the heart-rending ending will bring you to tears.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book. The Book Thief is a captivating novel about courage, family, and, yes, books which you will want to reread. This book has received high praise since its publication a few years ago and it has merited every bit of it.


Next Time: Well, the holidays are approaching and I decided to review a Christmas themed book: Hercule Poirot's Christmas. (Um, yes, it is a murder mystery. But I love Agatha Christie and I just bought this one. And it is set during Christmas, so it will do.) If I do not read this one, I am not sure what I will blog about.


  1. I really MUST read this! Am ordering it right now. Thanks for the recommendation, Zella!

  2. Scott, thanks! I believe you will love this book. It's unlike anything else I've read, but so well-written. Tell me what you think. :)

  3. I am so glad you liked this book! I love Markus Zuzak.
    Yeah, I cried at the end too. I cry a lot in books so I cried massively in this one.
    It comes in at a massively close second for the most haunting last line I've read (but then I haven't read as much as I would like), just being beaten by the Boy in Stripped Pyjamas which kept me awake all night after I finished it.
    Scott, you will love the book thief and you guys should check out some more Zuzak. He is, by the way and Australian author, and Australian authors are awesome (because all people from Australia are just manatoraly awesome). Although the Book Thief is probably my favourite of his books my friend preachers for the Messenger which is another awesome book.

  4. Penguins Quack, I loved this book! It's my new favorite! (I am going to use my leftover Hanukkah money to buy a copy!) The final line is so haunting, but the whole book is too. (I also cry easily while reading. I was notorious earlier this summer on Sparklife as the girl who cried while reading Frankenstein. :D )

    I am definitely going to read more of Zusak's work. I was impressed with his skill. (And, yeah, Aussies are cool. I love your accents! :) )

  5. i really really want to read this book. It's on my long list of things to read. I'm currently reading Memoirs of a Geisha:]

  6. n.a., The Book Thief is excellent! I hope you enjoy it. :)

    How's Memoirs of a Geisha? I have been meaning to read it and haven't. :)

    Thanks for commenting! :)