7 Jun 2010

Book Review - The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Source: Own
Pages: 552
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN-13: 978-0-375-84220-7
Rating: 4 stars

By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow.  It is The Grave Digger'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 accordion-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.
 Narrated by Death, this is basically Liesel's coming of age story set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany.  Sent off to live with a foster family because her mother was unable to care for her (reasons never really gotten into beyond 'unable to afford it'), Liesel manages to settle into life on Himmel Street with the help of her foster father, Hans.  He stays by her during her nightmares and, eventually, helps her learn to read.  Her foster mother, Rosa, is a strong lady with a foul mouth who appears to be rather verbally abusive but in reality truly cares about those in her home.

Death as a narrator was gimmicky and yes it got rather annoying to have those random bolded lists pop up in the middle of chapters with Death's 'info you should probably know now', but overall the writing was fantastic.  The main characters were sufficiently fleshed out and each had their quirks - they felt real and I cared about what was going to happen to them (even after Death foreshadowed events to death :p).  The concept of Liesel as a book thief was, in my opinion, rather weak considering her only real theft was the Grave Digger's Handbook.  Rudy summed it up perfectly:
"You know something, Liesel, I was thinking.  You're not a thief at all," and he didn't give her a chance to reply.  "That woman lets you in.  She even leaves you cookies, for Christ's sake.  I don't call that stealing.  Stealing is what the army does.  Taking your father and mine."
 So why did I give it four stars?  Because I really did enjoy reading it.  The story flowed very well and I wanted to see how events were going to play out.  I wanted Liesel to kiss Rudy each time he asked her for one.  I wanted everything to end with a 'happily ever after' even though I knew it was very unlikely.  I wanted Liesel to grow up and realize that life and war aren't fair and that everyone was just holding their breaths waiting to see what would happen next, and it was good to see that she did learn something about the adult world around her.  Basically, even though some of the gimmicks Zusak used felt out of place and contrived, the overall story and characters more than made up for it, in my opinion.

The Book Thief was well worth my reading time and I'm going to see if I can't convince my eldest to give it a shot as well.

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