The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Posted January 8, 2014 in Book Review / 4 Comments

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published by Knopf Books on September 18th 2007
Genres: Adult fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 550
Format: Paperback
Source: Gift
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five-stars

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 Jew 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.

main points

Review Introduction
I finally jumped on the bandwagon after reading several recommendations for this book on Twitter, after the movie came out (I haven’t seen it yet, wanted to read the book first), and finally after I received this as a gift. I finished it a few minutes before midnight on 12.31.13. And may I just say this book lived up to all expectations. It was worth every second.
Writing Style
I liked Death’s narration very much. It was so short and poignant. It was written first person from Death’s point of view, and third person for everyone else. Only excerpts can describe how awesome the writing is. Things were often described in ways that you wouldn’t expect. Voices were personified. Things like that. Skip down to the quotes section for more.
There are a few things I also noticed that need mentioning:
Good: There are little interruptions quite frequently with asterisks (****) that define or explain things further and those are really fun and useful.
Neutral: there was a lot of repetition. Throughout the entire book. Ideas were constantly repeated.
Bad: Death gave away critical moments in the book several times. Like, we knew what was going to happen in the end about halfway through. And he kept alluding to it later. It was supposed to soften the blow, but really, it didn’t.
Story
Life for Liesel was miserable a lot of the time. It could have been worse with her foster family, but the conditions weren’t the best. They were kind of…poor. They were living in Nazi Germany. That kind of dictated the entire story. But it was told from the POV of a non-Nazi German family. Some might even say anti-Nazi. Okay, they were definitely anti-Nazi. They hid a Jew in the basement.
Anyway, it was really sad, but at the same time really happy. But mostly sad. In a beautiful way.
Characters 
There were so many loving relationships I can’t even begin to describe.
Liesel: I loved her from the beginning. She was unpredictable, and beautiful, and her heart was so big.
Rudy: It was hard not to love him also, for all the same reasons. He liked to dream big, always.
Hans Hubermann (Papa): From the moment Liesel arrived at their house, it was clear that he would be her ally, but you could never have guessed how deep their bond would become. He was the perfect thing for her at the time. All the time.
Rosa Hubermann: She was mean a lot of the time, but she really did love Liesel and Hans and, as the book frequently states, was very useful in a crisis.
Max (the Jew in the basement): He was very hard on himself for reasons that weren’t his fault. He deserved more than he got. But he was also very good for Liesel. They were good for each other. The 13 presents were so sweet.
Ilsa: She was also good for Liesel. She had a library….and didn’t mind so much when Liesel stole from it. I think they learned a lot from each other.
Ending

The ending basically tore me apart. There were few happy things, but it was still satisfying, in a way. But refer to the following section:

Feels
There were some serious feels towards the end. It somewhat softened the blow that Death spoiled the ending for us a few times (even if it was still really annoying) but it made it no less sad/happy/mostly sad. I remember actually leaving teardrops in the book (pages 513 and 536) so the memories of my first read would always be there.
Also, I think this quote from the song Human by Christina Perri is perfect for this book (especially because Death spends a lot of time talking about humans as a species):
“I’m only human
I bleed when I fall down
I’m only human
I crash and I break down
Your words in my head
knives in my heart
you build me up and then I fall apart
Because I’m only human

Quotes

So many quotable moments:

  • “I traveled the globe as always, handing souls to the conveyor belt of eternity.” (page 23) I just love that conveyor belt of eternity. That makes me happy.
  • “In truth, I think he was afraid. Rudy Steiner was scared of the book thief’s kiss. He must have longed for it so much. He must have loved her so incredibly hard. So hard that he would never ask for her lips again and would go to his grave without them.” (page 303)
  • Here’s one of the interruptions, referring to Liesel and Max: “***A NICE THOUGHT*** One was a book thief. The other stole the sky.” (page 381)
  • “They watched the Jews come down the road like a catalog of collectors. 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.” (page 391)
  • “Stars of David were plastered to their shirts, and misery was attached to them as if assigned. ‘Don’t forget your misery…’ In some cases, it grew on them like a vine.” (page 392)
  • irony: “It kills me sometimes, how people die.” (page 464)
  • The entire really sad paragraph on page 536 (if you’ve read it, you know the one) that I can’t print here because of spoilers.
  • “It was a year for the ages, like 79, like 1346, to name just a few. Forget the scythe, Goddamn it, I needed a broom and a mop. And I needed a vacation.” (page 307)
  • “Up high, in the window, her face appeared like a white flag with moist eyes and an open mouth. Her voice was like suicide, landing with a clunk at Liesel’s feet.” (page 390)
Note: all italics are my way of drawing attention to the dramatic parts, and were not written that way in the book.

Good vs. Bad

Good:

  • Characters
  • narration
  • realism (it’s pretty realistic)
  • feels
  • story
  • everything
Less than perfect:
  • the ending was so sad. that’s all.

movie

The link to the IMDB page is here. I have seen the movie, but have not reviewed it yet. When I do, it will be in this section.

Bottom Line

Words cannot describe how beautiful this book was. It was extremely sad, but also happy, in a way. I fell in love with the unforgettable characters. The writing was beautiful and the narration was the best I’ve ever seen. There were so many good quotes from this book. My feelings were all over the place. Would I read more by Zusak? Yes. But not right away. Or maybe not. It’s hard to be that awesome twice. Would I recommend this book to others? Without a doubt. It’s perfect.

About Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak was born in 1975 and is the author of five books, including the international bestseller, The Book Thief , which is translated into more than forty languages. First released in 2005, The Book Thief has spent more than a decade on the New York Times bestseller list, and still remains there to this day.
Markus Zusak grew up in Sydney, Australia, and still lives there with his wife and two children.

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4 Comments on "The Book Thief by Markus Zusak"

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[…] couldn’t boost them up to a Special Star because they weren’t quite at the level of The Book Thief or Attrition. And even with those 2 books, I gave them Special Stars for completely different […]

Jillian
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HURRAY YOU READ IT :D I thought you had read it before? This was definitely one of my most favorite books of all time! I loved Liesel and the fact that it was written through Death’s perspective. I read this a year ago, but it never fails to impress me :> Also, I agree with the thing you said with the Christina Perri song. I love “Human” too haha. :)

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