Monday, January 21, 2008

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak



This book came very highly recommended from many of my fellow bloggers, and I read it for the A to Z Challenge. Right away, I want to say WOW - everyone was right. This is an excellent book. It is definitely a 5 star book in my rating system this year. I said I'd reserve 5 stars for books that blew me away, and this one did it.

For those of you who don't know, this book is set in a small town in Nazi Germany during World War II and tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a German teenage girl, as told by Death. Death is the narrator and a major character in the book. It is also the story of the people who live in her street and in her small town. Yes, it is a Holocaust story but not in the same way as many of the books I've read.

In the past, I've had the good fortune to teach Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank to groups of young people. This book needs to join that literature group for young adults. It is the first book I've read where I truly understood the terrors faced by the German population at the time. I've always thought how could anyone let such horrendous things happen, but Zusak showed me a different view of humanity - the humanity of the average German who truly had no choice.


STRENGTHS OF THE BOOK THIEF: There are so many. First, I think Zusak has created one of the all-time great characters/narrators in Death. I know that sounds funny, but Death, in this story, is human, humane, compassionate, and a bit humorous. At the end of the book, Death says, "I am haunted by humans." In some ways, I think Death is haunted by humanity - both the good and the bad parts. When Death does take children in the story, his compassion and gentleness moved me to tears.

Another strength is how Zusak created the characters of Liesel and her foster father, Hans. The depth of their relationship is clear, but so is their humanity. At one point in the book, they shelter a Jewish man in their basement. I don't want to give away anything in the book, but Death does say that all people die. I was quite taken with Death's descriptions of both Liesel and Han's souls. That also brought me to tears.

Zusak was also able to tie all the pieces together, and the book didn't feel like over 500 pages. Everything happened for a reason which helped move the plot along elsewhere in the book. Each of the book thieving incidents by Liesel were turning points in the plot. I actually reread the first twenty pages of the book after I finished it because Death alludes to a lot of these points right at the start of the story.

WEAKNESSES OF THE BOOK THIEF: My first instinct is to say NONE, but, after a discussion of the book with my husband, I did realize one thing about it. It required that the reader had some basic knowledge of the rise of Hitler in Germany, the horrors of the concentration camps, and the way war was fought in World War II with bombers etc. It didn't even occur to me since I always assume that this is knowledge that all educated people possess. However, my husband reminded me that there are schools were the Holocaust is not discussed and where American and World History courses never get to World War II. I hope teachers find this book and use it to inform students.




Overall, what can I say. WOW and again WOW. I don't keep many books - I pass them along for others to read. This is going to be one of the few that I put my name in because I want my daughter to read it when she's old enough. I've read many blogger's reviews of this one, but please feel free to leave me links to your reviews. I want to reread them now that I've read the book.

20 comments:

Maw Books said...

Hey, thanks for visiting! I know wasn't this book amazing?! I borrowed it from the library, but it is now on my to buy list. This is one for the collection. And that video? I'm glad you also enjoyed it, it's amazing. Makes me wish that the director could do a full length movie in that style. I bet this book will be made into a movie eventually, though. Just watch.

cj said...

Great review, Bookgal. I have to admit, I didn't even think about the lack of knowledge about the war being a problem. WWII is such a huge event in world history but you're right. History seems to be in the process of being rewritten.

Over at IMBD they say a movie of The Book Thief is "in development". I sure hope they get it made, as long as they stay faithful to the book. I've don't remember another book that I would love to see in a visual form as much as this one.

Thanks for the great review.

cjh

Kristy said...

Great review. I'm always thrilled when I read someone loved it as much as I did. Not an easy book, but a great one.

Marg said...

Definitely a great read! I have one of his other books here to read too...hopefully I will get to it soon.

Literary Feline said...

I think I know of only one person who hated the book and it was more because of the subject matter than the actual book itself. Every time I come across such a glowing review, it makes me even more eager to read this one. I need to make time for it sooner than later. Great review!

BookGal said...

maw - The clip is wonderful. I wonder if the movie would be as good. I can't imagine Death in the movie.

cj - It would be quite a challenge for a filmmaker!

kristy - I feel the same way.

marg - I have I Am Messenger on my TBR list. People seem to rave about that one as well.

literary - I've only read one bad blog review on it and I think it was the subject matter. It is really worth your reading time!

Jeane said...

Wow, with such a strong recommendation, I think I'm going to have to try this book out. I didn't really know what it was about, before. Thanks for the review.

Chain Reader said...

I am on the verge of putting this on my mp3 player--I can barely contain my excitement!

BookGal said...

jeane - I hope you like it.

chain reader - I'd love to hear a review of the audio book. I wonder if it's the same emotional impact.

Les said...

Great review. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. I think I need to read this once a year! It remains my #1 read ever.

Brie said...

I have seen a number of glowing reviews for this book. I think that it's time for me to break down and purchase it.

BookGal said...

Les - Wow ... ever? That's a glowing review.

Brie - I saw it in paperback recently. It's worth owning.

Framed said...

I love reading other reviews of this book. Here is the link to my review:
http://framed2007bookreviews.blogspot.com/2007/06/book-thief-by-markus-zusak.html
I agreed with so many of the same things that you liked about this book. It truly is a keeper.

Maw Books said...

Today my husband ran into the library to drop stuff off and pick up our holds, he came out with The Book Thief. "What are you doing?" I asked. "I just returned that one a couple of days ago."

"I know," he says, "it was in the book sale area for 25 cents!" He, he . . . I'm giddy.

Anonymous said...

Framed - Great review. I agree with you!

Maw - What a deal! You have a very sweet husband.

Trish said...

My comment isn't up yet, but did I say "prosecute"? I meant persecute. If that's what I said, then ignore. Silly, I know! Ha ha!

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh I read the book and LOVED it!I even got it a second time.My friend from school told me about it.I heard that they are making a movie. How'd you think could play Max?I pictured him looking like Orlando Bloom :P

Andy said...

I believe Karen Rosenfelt (the Devil Wears Prada) has been chosen to produce the film for release in 2010. I'm not convinced by that.

I'm not sure I could watch the film, as I am far, far too close to this book. I finished it two weeks ago, and I still can't stop thinking about it. I feel as though I know the characters and can't let them go. I can't even pick up another book for the time being.

I hope I'm wrong and the film is great. however, I just can't imagine how the depth of the characters and their relationships can be developed fully in a 2 hour film. Nor can I see how the narrator could be handled in screen.

I guess I have developed my own vision of the characters and the setting and I know A film will be very different.

Anonymous said...

I had to do a project about this book in which I had to write a letter to a producer suggesting it be made into a movie. It was a blast casting it! I had the girl from "Atonement," Saoirse Ronan, as Liesel, Julie Walters as Rosa (like Mrs. Weasley in HP), Adrian Brody as Max (think The Pianist), Meryl Streep as the Mayor's Wife, and Sean Connery as Death (He was about Liesel's age during WWII except in England). (And since it was a project, I suggested Gregory Peck for Hans:) Also, I think another thing that the movie version would need is a really good soundtrack.

thegreengecko said...

The Book Thief is actually my favourite book ever. I read it four times in one year, and I haven't got tired of it xD I hope if they make the film they will stay faithful to the book, because I'd imagine it is a very hard film to shoot, but it would be great to see it. If it's good.