Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Review - The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Borzoi Books, 2005

Format? oversized paperback given to me by a Secret Santa two Christmases ago
Why?  The first year I blogged, every. single. blog. I read sang the praises of this book.  I try not to get too wrapped up in hype bc I want there to be a little bit of distance between what's covered in the media and my own true thoughts.  I put the book on my Christmas list, received it, and then let it sit on my TBR shelves for over a year.  I needed a book this past spring for my hybrid class...a class with which I read a novel for the first time...The Book Thief was it.
What Now?  I will and have recommended this one to anybody and everybody.  My firstborn has already read it, and my boss gets it next.  I will probably buy a hardback version of this one and then put it in its rightful place on my keeper shelves.

Golden Lines

It's the leftover humans.
The suvivors.
They're the ones I can't stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail.  I deliberately seek out the colors to keep my mind off them, but now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise.  They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs.

1.  In 1942 and early '43, in that city, the sky was bleached bedsheet-white each morning.
2.  All day long, as I carried the souls across it, that sheet was splashed with blood, until it was full and bulging to the earth.
3.  In the evening, it would be wrung out and bleached again, ready for the next dawn.
4.  And that was when the fighting was only during the day.

You could argue that Liesel Meminger had it easy.  She did have it easy compared to max Vandenburg.  Certainly, her brother practically died in her arms.  Her mother abandoned her.
But anything was better than being a Jew.

Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened.
Imagine smiling after a slap in the face.  Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.
That was the business of hiding a Jew

The scrawled words of practice stood magnificently on the wall by the stairs, jagged and childlike and sweet.  They looked on as both the hidden Jew and the girl slept, hand to shoulder.
They breathed.
German and Jewish lungs.

"Gentlemen," a stout referee in black pants and a blue shirt began.  A bow tie was fixed to his throat.  "First and foremost, we want a good clean fight."  He addressed only the Fuhrer now, "Unless, of course, Herr Hitler, you begin to lose.  Should this occur, I will be quite willing to turn a blind eye to any unconscionable tactics you might employ to grind this piece of Jewish stench and filth into the canvas."  He nodded, with great courtesy.  "Is that clear?"
The Fuhrer spoke his first word then.  "Crystal."

You hide a Jew.  You pay.  Somehow or other, you must.

In all honesty (and I know I'm complaining excessively now), I was still getting over Stalin, in Russia.  The so-called second revolution - the murder of his own people.
Then came Hitler.

As if often the case with humans, when I read about them in the book thief's words, I pitied them, though not as much as I felt for the ones I scooped up from various camps in that time.  The Germans in basements were pitiable, surely, but at least they had a chance.  That basement was not a washroom.  They were not sent there for a shower.  For those people, life was still achievable.

"When everything was quiet, I went up to the corridor and the curtain in the living room was open just a crack....I could see outside.  I watched, only for a few seconds."  He had not seen the outside world for twenty-two months.

They watched the Jews come down the road like a catalog of colors.  That wasn't how the book thief described them, but I can tell you that that's exactly what they were, for many of them would die.  They would each greet me like their last true friend, with bones like smoke and their souls trailing behind.

No, thought Liesel as she walked.  It's my heart that is tired.  A thirteen-year-old heart shouldn't feel like this.


German Liesel Meminger is left with foster parents Rosa and Hans Hubermann in a town called Molching on a cold winter night; her brother is dead, having died on the train, and her mother, unable to feed and care for her children anymore, is gone.
Liesel settles in with the Hubermanns, grows accustomed to Rosa's sharp tongue and Hans' gentleness and understanding and discovers a best friend, Rudy Steiner.  Life in Hitler's Germany is tough even for non-Jewish Germans...their food is rationed, there are no extras of anything, there are strict rules to follow and family members may be taken away at any time to serve Hitler in whatever way he so chooses.
The families do everything possible to keep life as normal as possible.
Hans begins to read with Liesel each night when she wakens from her nightmares, first from A Gravediggers Handbook that Liesel, "The Book Thief," recovered after it was lost in the snow by an apprentice gravedigger at her brother's burial and then from books Liesel steals from the mayor's wife's library.  She later continues her reading and writing lessons in the basement with a Jew named Max (the son of an old friend of Hans) who shows up one night needing help.
Life gets tougher on Himmel Street; the war begins spiraling out of control, Jews are marched down the street of Molching on their way to concentration camps, air raid sirens become part of normal life, Rosa loses many of her washing jobs bc of prejudice, and the family is frightened for their lives 24/7 if Max is found in their basement.
Is it even possible for this story to have a happy ending?
Should it?

What I Liked

Death, the narrator - foreshadowing - I could almost hear know the kind that comes on while you're watching a scary movie...the killer is around the corner...if only the heroine could hear the music, right??  That's when everybody starts screaming, "Don't you go in there, Girl!! Just don't do it!"  Even when you've seen the movie before, you still hope that she won't go in there...that's how this story felt to me.
I knew how it would end.  We all do.  

Liesel - in the past when someone mentioned the name Liesel, I would think of the older sister in "The Sound of Music"...that won't happen anymore.  This Liesel is unforgettable.  Her strength, her soul, her ability to adjust to her surroundings, her ability to pick up and keep moving, her ability to love, her ability to see the world around her realistically...all of that and more...nevermind the fact that this child is only 9-13 years old throughout the story.

Format - I'm sure there's a word for this type of structure, but I don't  know what it is...The narrator, Death, goes back and forth in time as he pleases and interrupts the flow with comments and/or bolded newsflashes of sort.  I would think the danger of this kind of format would be a chopped up feel, but there is none of that here.  Quite the contrary, the most effective flashes and context seem to be incorporated seamlessly this way.

Death complaining about having too much on his plate - Most of us see Death as that hooded creature with the's a Hollywood version that's become ingrained in our brains.  But, Death as the storyteller in The Book Thief doesn't seem to be a frightening thing at all...the way he gently scoops the victims up in his arms and takes them away, the way Death truly mourns over the lives of worthy humans, the way Death sees all that's happening in the world as a waste, but not something he can stop almost endears him to the reader.  I could go on and on about the symbolism mankind hurts itself over and over, etc. but I'll let you experience that for yourself.

The humor - both Death's sarcastic remarks and Liesel and Rudy's attempts to carry on conversations with adult words tickled me from time to time.  I appreciated the ability to have a rest every now and then from subject matter that weighed so heavily on my chest.  The German curse words were my favorites :)

The History - once again there are things here that I never even knew about...scores of Jews escaped Germany while they were able and ended up in Australia...hence, Zusak's (an Australian) interest in the Jewish families who survived and the members/branches of those families who were left behind and essentially wiped off the face of the earth.

Hans Hubermann - how the heck do you not like a man like Hans?

What I Didn't Like

There is literally nothing about this novel that I didn't like, except of course, the subject matter.  How in the world this part of our history exists completely baffles me.  And, then sometimes it doesn't; I can look around at the world we live in today and see some of the same mindset that guided the worst genocide in our nation's history, and I get scared.  Really.

Hitler was one man.
One of the statistics Death brings out in this novel is that at one point in history 90% of Germans backed Hitler.
Out of every 100 people, 90 of them believed what Hiltler proposed was right and/or believed that his strategies/actions had to happen in order to create a powerful German human race.

Even as I type those words, it seems so something we'd all snicker at and say the person needs psychiatric help.
But, time and time again, things happen that we think never would.
How did this happen?
It's called blind conformity.
It's a disease, and...

This book is a classic.  

Overall Recommendation

Everybody needs to read this book.
The End.


  1. Great review! This is one of my all time favorite books. I had my son read it and he really liked it too. I agree, everyone should read this book!

    1. Anne, It's going to be one of my all time favorites as well...:)

  2. Wonderful review! I share your enthusiasm for this book. Book bloggers should especially appreciate this book due to the "bookish" themes found in the book.

    1. Suko, the bookish themes just make it that much better, don't they? :) This one is a winner all the way around :)

  3. I loved this book so much as well! I did cry a lot though and I was genuinely sobbing by the end. I then gave it to my dad to read and he cried too! x

    1. I too, had to read through my tears several times. I knew there would not be a happy ending and of course Death had already told us about one of the tragedies to come...but when it all came down, I wasn't shocked or anything, just deeply deeply saddened :( But, it was the right way for the book to end...we would be kidding ourselves if we found a Cinderella story here.

  4. I love this review. Love it, and would concur with everything you said. Our book club read this a couple of years ago, and nobody could find anything to criticize. Everyone unilaterally loved it. So yes. Everyone on earth, please read this book.

    1. Sandy, when I require a novel, of course, I'll have some students who hate, some who love, some in between...with this book, in my very unscientific research, almost all of them read most of the book. That's never happened to me before. I think they simply couldn't help caring about these characters. This was a small class though bc it's hybrid, so I'll be testing that theory in the fall with a regular sized class.

  5. It's on my shelf! I really need to get around to reading this novel that everyone seems to hold dear. Great review!

    1. Oh, get it down, Brooke. You'll be glad you did :)

  6. Yep, this is one of those rare cases when the book does live up to the hype.
    I usually shrink back from hyped up books too, I still haven't read The Night Circus!

    1. I haven't read The Night Circus either, Sam. It doesn't even sound good to me :( And, then, like a little kid, I feel so left out ;(
      I think it speaks volumes that The Book Thief touches so many different readers in so many's just that kind of book :)

  7. I'm not what was going on with me when I tried to read this one, but I gave up after 50 or so pages. I just couldn't connect with anyone and I kept putting it down. Everyone, and I mean everyone has loved it... so why not me? I still have my copy and plan to give it another go, but I have to be honest, once I decide to put a book down, it's super hard for me to pick it up again.

    1. Oh, Wow, Ti!! But, you know, we all come to a book with different expectations and respond to it our own personal ways. I don't think we should ever dismiss the reader response. I can't pick them up once I put them down either :(

  8. Awesome review! I just re-read this book recently, reading it aloud to my daughter, who loved it as well. It's one of my all-time favorite books, and it's so hard to put into words just how much and why I love it.

    1. It's going to be one of my all-time favorites as well :) There's just soooo much there...

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  10. Great post! I totally agree with you on this book - it is almost perfect. It is certainly one of my all time favourites and I think I may need to re-read it sometime soon! I am glad you finally got around to reading it. :)

    New to your blog!
    Steph @ Stepping Out of the Page

    1. me too, Steph...and I can't wait to read it with my class this Fall! :) Thanks for visiting! :)

  11. I so agree with you! I adored the Book Thief and handed it out for world book night this year :) I get chills still when I think about that book!

    1. What a perfect choice for world book night :):) I may get a new copy of the book and try to experience it again in the fall...with new insight since I've finished it and see what else I can make of it...I'd like to see more of my student's reactions as well. :)