Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Monday, December 19, 2011
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: young-adult, historical fiction, general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 550 (paperback edition)
Published: 2006
Source: bought
Rating: 5/5

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

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 behind 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's library, wherever 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.

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.

There are books that you read, that sink tendrils into your heart and never leave. These are almost the very best kind of books, books like:  The Hunger Games, The Onion Girl, The Dogs of Babel or The Alchemist. Then there are those books that you feel, down to your very soul and in your bones. Books in which almost every word resonates perfectly within the reader, creating an enveloping, complete and often heart-wrenching story. Markus Zusak's alternately heart-warming and heart-breaking The Book Thief is one of those latter type of books: completely affecting, gorgeously written and endlessly readable. The Book Thief is not just a book of deeply affecting and believable characters: this is a book with living, breathing people upon its pages. Even Death, that fearful and unknowable force, is shown as compassionate and caring while watching the story of Liesel Meminger's life unfold. It's rare enough for me to add a new author to my favorites list, but Markus Zusak has done so with one novel, and one read of that novel, alone.

This is going to a different kind of review than my normal ones. It's very hard for me to articulate any kind of coherent thoughts about this book, even weeks after reading it. The Book Thief is impressive in scope, in character, in its vast, tangible emotions. Liesel Meminger is a burst of life and color from the page: real in all her imagined flaws, pains and triumphs. Spending over 500 pages with this determined foster child is revelatory and profound. It is best and most easily said succinctly: read this book. You will not be sorry you did. Yes, you will cry. Probably more than once (I definitely did at least three times), but The Book Thief is a novel deserving of your emotion and constant attention. Reading The Book Thief is an experience: draining but oh so worthwhile and rewarding. Encompassing love, war, hatred, fear, anger, infatuation and grief, this is a novel that is utterly unafraid to explore human emotion and human nature across the board.

Though this is by nature a more serious, emotional read, Zusak can come through quite unexpectedly with a sly or subtle humor that keeps the reader from veering into moroseness. I heartily appreciated the smattering of light-heartedness when they came about because this is a sad book, make no mistake. It's ultimately about the triumph of human will, of love and hope, but this is a sad novel to read.What I like best is that even when humor makes an appearace in the novel, it is used to prove or illustrate a point being made. I'm not going to go into detail about how vibrant and real I found Liesel Meminger, or her clinging to the written word in a world of uncertainty and denial. I won't go on about how a simple sentence like, "You never told me you had a son" would make several tears fall from my eyes.

The Book Thief may not be a "life-changer" for me as a reader (I don't know if any book is a life-changer), but it is definitely one I will take with me everywhere I go. And one I will recommend and throw at you until you give in and love read it. With a lyrical and mellifluous style for the chilling (and often heart-rending) events in The Book Thief, it is immensely readable despite the hard subject matter. This is a work of art in novel form, moving and poignant from  its start in 1939 to its all-too-soon finish. Zusak's portrayal of these stand-out characters (Liesel, Hans, RUDY) will linger long in your memory. Don't dismiss this novel out of hand as just "another YA", especially if you are an adult. This book will resonate with and affect you even if you're long gone from the dreaded teenage years.

"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 tell you that no one died from it, or at least, not physically. There was, of course, the matter of forty million people I picked up by the time the whole thing was finished, but that's getting metaphoric..."

Lastly, a final quote from Death that I found particularly apt and poignant:

*** A SMALL BUT NOTEWORTHY NOTE ***
I've seen so many young men
over the years who think they're
running at other young men.
They are not.
They're running at me. "


BUY THIS BOOK. 

You won't just passively read it: you'll experience Liesel Meminger's world in all its horror and beauty.
I can't recommend The Book Thief enough. If you take one recommendation from this blog at all this year, let it be this one.

5 comments:

  1. This book really is incredible :)

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  2. Okay, I must get this one. I've seen lots of people rave about it but your enthusiasm -- that vague squee/arm waving of an awesome book that's impossible to articulate -- has sold me.

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  3. It was, Christina. I didn't think it would be that great, but it was!

    Yes, Audra, do it! It's definitely young-adult but it's completely amazing.

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  4. I LOVE this book and I loved reading your review. You've done a wonderful job summarising it and spelled out perfectly how incredibly moving it is.

    Megan @ Storybook Love Affair

    http://www.storybookloveaffair.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Well thank you, and as a long time follower of your excellent blog, that's quite a compliment! Thanks for stopping by! :D

    ReplyDelete

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