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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Postby diamondlil » Mon September 1st, 2008, 8:23 pm

It is 1939, Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier and will become busier still.

Liesel Memminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel's father was taken away on the breath of a single unfamiliar world - Kommunist - and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother's eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.

So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife library, where ever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

The Book Thief is a story about the power of words to make worlds. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.



The Book Thief is one of those books that you see overwhelmingly positive reviews for around the place. There was therefore a sense of some anticipation, but also some trepidation on starting this book because if so many people like it, it must be good right? But what if I don't? I shouldn't have worried because this was a good book - a very good book!

Just the set up of the book is intriguing, let alone the content. The narrator of the book is Death, and the setting is inside Nazi Germany during WWII. We hear from Death throughout the book, as he injects his own thoughts on life and death throughout the book. He first meets the main character of the book, Liesel, when her younger brother is dying by the sides of the train tracks. Liesel and her brother were being taken to a new foster family who live on the outskirts of Munich. With their father having already been taken away for being a Kommunist, her mother lives in fear, and has decided that it will be safer for her children to be cared for by others...just in case.

Liesel ends up living with a couple by the name of Rosa and Hans Hubermann. They have older children, boys who are off fighting the fight. Rosa is a woman with a tough exterior, but as the book goes on we find that she really has a heart of gold, and Hans is the one who shows Liesel the tenderness that she needs, the one who sits up during the night teaching Liesel to read and comforting her when she can't sleep. Along with the Hubermann's, there are also the other families who live on the street like the next door neighbour who has been feuding with Rosa Hubermann for years and the Steiners, most especially Rudy who becomes Liesel's best friend and fellow adventurer.

There are many subjects that are dealt with in this book. Death is just a few minutes away, the time it takes a bomb to fall, there are food shortages, there is the need for ordinary Germans to join the Nazi party, and the consequences of not joining, young love, loss, and for Liesel there is the thirst to read, to own books, regardless of how she comes to possess them.

Whilst the subjects sounds somewhat depressing, the observations in the novel are sharp, and there are many funny and poignant moments through out the novel. Death (the character) provides many moments where he makes fun of himself, and his own job, but without making it a complete joke. We get to see his own torment as he collects the souls of many people through out the book.

I had not read any of this author's books before, but if all of his other books are of a similar quality to this one, I will definitely be reading more!

Rating 4.5/5
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There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

Edith Wharton

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Telynor
Bibliophile
Location: On the Banks of the Hudson

Postby Telynor » Mon September 1st, 2008, 9:24 pm

Excellent review as always! This is one that I need to read.

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Mon September 1st, 2008, 10:44 pm

I loved this book; very surprised it was originally marketed to YAs (and totally appropriate), because there is much here for the adult reader (I think it has finally made its way to the adult shelves) I loved the writing style and the narration (it probably helps that I am a fan of Discworld, and the character of Death is one of my favs). Interesting that a few in my group were bothered by the personification of Death, but here is one character who sees all and knows all, and does his job. His observations are so unattached to the events in the beginning, and then they are not. And yet he still is who he is.

I also liked this book because it shows what was happening to the people in Germany at that moment in time, as the Germans were losing. You don't see many books like that (Ursula Hegi has a few and does them quite well). Her characters are complex, and very very human. They disgust you sometimes, and then they surprise you with their grace and humanity. And then there's Leisel, with her drive to read. One of my favs of last year.

lil, I read another by her (the name escapes me) but it didn't have the power of this one.

tsjmom
Reader

Postby tsjmom » Mon September 1st, 2008, 11:35 pm

I also loved this book! It's one of the most powerful, thought provoking novels I've read.

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

Postby diamondlil » Tue September 2nd, 2008, 4:13 am

"Ash" wrote:I loved this book; very surprised it was originally marketed to YAs (and totally appropriate), because there is much here for the adult reader (I think it has finally made its way to the adult shelves) I loved the writing style and the narration (it probably helps that I am a fan of Discworld, and the character of Death is one of my favs). Interesting that a few in my group were bothered by the personification of Death, but here is one character who sees all and knows all, and does his job. His observations are so unattached to the events in the beginning, and then they are not. And yet he still is who he is.

I also liked this book because it shows what was happening to the people in Germany at that moment in time, as the Germans were losing. You don't see many books like that (Ursula Hegi has a few and does them quite well). Her characters are complex, and very very human. They disgust you sometimes, and then they surprise you with their grace and humanity. And then there's Leisel, with her drive to read. One of my favs of last year.

lil, I read another by her (the name escapes me) but it didn't have the power of this one.



Death is one of my favourite Pratchett characters as well!

The fact that you do get to see what was happening in Germany is something that was fresh for me too, and definitely one of the strengths of the novel.
My Blog - Reading Adventures



All things Historical Fiction - Historical Tapestry





There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.



Edith Wharton

User avatar
Vanessa
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: The Two Houses by Fran Cooper
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
Favorite HF book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Preferred HF: Any
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Postby Vanessa » Tue September 2nd, 2008, 10:29 am

There are two book coversin the UK, one for adults and one for teenagers.

LoisAnn
Reader
Location: Marlow, Oklahoma

Postby LoisAnn » Sun May 31st, 2009, 6:50 pm

Just add me to the list of people who are completely captivated by this book! Every once in awhile, a book comes along that is just a cut above. It's not just the quality of writing, or the development of the characters, or the cleverness of the plot ... it's ALL that and it's MORE than that as well.

The Book Thief is like that for me, as are Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Zafon & Shibumi, by Trevanian. Books that have enriched my life by the reading of them.

Careful: minor spoiler alerts >> I loved the narration by Death - thought it added a wonderful & very unique perspective to the book. I loved all the symbolism in the book - Max's descriptions of boxing with Hitler are wonderful! And the story of the Word Shaker is just fabulous! One other part that really struck me was when Death was talking about how light Papa's soul was - because he had already given so much of himself away - beautiful. (I hope my soul will be light as well for the same reason - indeed, something to aspire to.) <<

A "keeper" book and highly recommended. (I can't wait for my husband to read it so we can discuss it and reread sections out loud to each other! This is just that kind of book!)
Last edited by LoisAnn on Sun May 31st, 2009, 6:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I've never known any trouble that an hour's reading didn't assuage. ~ Charles de Secondat

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SarahWoodbury
Avid Reader
Location: Pendleton, Oregon
Contact:

Postby SarahWoodbury » Sun May 31st, 2009, 8:01 pm

I wandered into my daughter's room a while ago and asked for a book. She has shelves of them (yes, she is my child), and she handed me "The Book Thief". I read it in nearly one sitting.

I also read Pratchett and Gaiman's "Good Omens" shortly afterwards (this handed to me by my son), and thought it was highly amusing and great. I'd love to write a book with death as the main character, but it has been done so well, it's hard to know where to begin. . . .

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Sun May 31st, 2009, 10:28 pm

If you love Good Omen (and its a book I reread regularly), you must try Terry Pratchetts Discworld series. One of the main characters is Death. Don't start from the beginning, his first few books were very light and silly. Try Lords and Ladies, Soul Music, Small Gods first, they'll give you an idea of the books. There is a website that suggests the order of books to read, but Im not at my computer right now and can't do a link. But if you search discworld reading order you'll probably find it.

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ellenjane
Reader

Postby ellenjane » Tue August 25th, 2009, 3:37 pm

I just finished this up last night. I agree that it's an excellent book, and it was interesting to read something about the German people during that time of WWII - you don't see that often. It was a strange to think of the bombers being Allied planes. I haven't read Discworld or much Neil Gaiman, but the writing style here reminded me strongly of Kurt Vonnegut for some reason. I'm recommending it to my husband, who's a huge Vonnegut fan.


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