Friday, June 24, 2011

Retro Friday Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and "focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc." 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2005
ISBN: 9780375842207
Source: personal copy (reread for book club)

The Book Thief

Guys, I really struggled with a summary of this book.  I just don't think it's possible for me to write it well enough.  But here's what I will say: story of a young girl growing up in World War II Germany.  All told from the narrative perspective of a compassionate Death, Liesel's story will break your heart and lift your spirits at the same time.

Things I Liked:
Does this book really need more gushing?  Could I possibly be able to say anything new about it?  Probably not.  I'll just say, if you haven't picked this book up, you really should.  The writing alone is worth the read - gorgeous, different, vivid and expressive, it will make you think differently about nearly everything you know about WWII Germany.  The story itself is slow to unfold, but you become acquainted with the characters and fall in love with them, and then suffer when they do.  It is a rich, detailed and simply lovely story, with such a unique and intriguing narrator that you will find yourself flying through the pages.  Read it.  And then read it again.  And again.  After meeting Markus Zusak, I loved the story even more.  Some of the many, many parts I loved:

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.  At that moment, you will be lying there (I rarely find people standing up).  You will be caked in your own body.  There might be a discovery; a scream will dribble down the air.  The only sound I'll hear after that will be my own breathing, and the sound of the smell, of my footsteps.  The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you?  What will the sky be saying?  Personally, I like a chocolate-colored sky.  Dark, dark chocolate.  People say it suits me.  I do, however, try to enjoy every color I see - the whole spectrum.  A billion or so flavors, none of them quite the same, and a sky to slowly suck on.  It takes the edge off the stress.  It helps me relax. p 4
She was the book thief without the words.  Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.  p 80
Many jocular comments followed, as did another onslaught of "heil Hitlering."  You know, it actually makes me wonder if anyone ever lost an eye or injured a hand or wrist with all of that.  You'd only need to be facing the wrong way at the wrong time or stand marginally too close to another person.  Perhaps people did get injured.  Personally, I can only tell you that no one died from it, or at least, not physically.  p 111
Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words.  "I will never fire a gun," he devised.  "I will not have to."  Still, he was not rash.  Let's allow him at least that much.  He was not a stupid man at all.  His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.  He planted them day and night, and cultivated them.  He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany....It was a nation of farmed thoughts.  p 445
Things I Didn't Like:
This being my second time reading it, I was struck again by how many swear words there are.  Mind you, many of them are German, but the religious exclamations also made me uncomfortable, but I don't think they'll bother many people.  I know it didn't detract much from the beauty and bitterness of the story for me.  Also, it really isn't a short book and might be a bit hard for those who can't invest much time and effort into the reading, but know it will be worth it if you can.  

Honestly, not much like any other WWII book I've read, but try  

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne 
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli 
Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

s-factor: !@#
as mentioned above, mostly German or religious

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->->
not a lot in number, but necessary as part of the story

Overall rating: *****

Anybody out there not read this book?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage


  1. His books are so amazing it's hard to even express in words.

  2. +JMJ+

    Confession: I haven't read it yet! =P

    In fact, its publication year of 2005 makes it seem very "new" to me and I was a bit surprised to see it already qualifies as a Retro Friday pick! (Of course, I'm also getting old and feeling it more and more by the day . . . Why shouldn't something over five years old be "retro"?)

  3. Jenny, amen. It makes me feel very stupid trying to :)

    Enbrethiliel, it's worth it to pick up! I know, my retro friday picks are always rather new, comparatively speaking, but a lot of what I read was very recently published, so sometimes I feel like if it's a few years older, it's totally retro :)

  4. My book club is reading this for next month's meeting. I have yet to see a bad review from millions of reviews I have seen, so I am sure I will love it. I am anxious to see how the other members feel.

  5. reviewsbylola, I'll be interested to see what you and your book group think!

  6. I agree that this is an outstanding book but not an easy one. The difficulty I recall from reading it a few years back was that I felt the author used the distancing technique of calling Max, "the Jew", long after both we and the characters knew his name and he was a real person to the other characters. But other than that 1 small glitch (for me) a book that well repays a read.

  7. Andie, I don't think I even noticed that! How interesting the different things people get from the same book. I'll have to look at that next time I read it.

  8. Your blog is wonderful! Very eloquent and well written. We read this for my book club, everyone absolutely loved it. His other book 'I am the messenger' is very good as well. I have enjoyed both of the books. The are odd, yet whimsical and thought provoking.

  9. Dar, thank you so much! I read Messenger a while ago, but I can't remember much except that powerful ending. Definitely a unique style!

  10. I finished the Book Thief two days ago and I still can't get it out of my mind. That's a sign of a good book, to me.

    My only obstacle with the book, in the beginning, was the constant foreshadowing. I didn't like knowing who would be dying. But as I read on, I realized that knowing what was coming, kept my heart from braking.

    It's going on my top list of books and I'm looking forward to reading I am the Messenger.

  11. Des, I totally agree that it is hard to forget! I don't usually like such heavy foreshadowing either, but I sometimes didn't even notice I was so absorbed. I'm interested to see what you think of I Am the Messenger.


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