Fiction/Literature

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief

When Death has a story to tell, you listen.

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

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. 

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

“The kind of book that can be life-changing.” —The New York Times

“Deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.” —USA Today

Book Review by SEB

Eleven-year-old Liesel Meminger is a foster child who has recently arrived in a small town outside Munich, Germany during WWII. Liesel has been sent to live with Hans and Rosa Huberman, presumably for the small stipend they’ll receive. Liesel is still suffering from the loss of her little brother and the difficult and somewhat mysterious separation from her mother. She takes an immediate like to Hans, who is kind and thoughtful, but takes much longer to warm up to the abrasive Rosa.

Liesel makes friends with next-door neighbor Rudy and establishes herself as a self-proclaimed book thief. Becoming unlikely friends with the Mayor’s wife Ilsa affords Liesel the opportunity to read the books in the Mayor’s massive library. Along the way, Liesel is witness to the atrocities of war, heartbreaking events, love, loss and other life-changing events.

I saw the movie The Book Thief several years ago and loved it. When I decided it was time to read the book I was absolutely captivated. Although the book is 550 pages long, I read it in just two days – it was THAT good.

The book is different in several ways, ways in which I won’t go into in my review. Suffice it to say that I’m glad I saw the movie first and then read the book. I think I might have been disappointed with the movie version if it had happened in opposite order. This just goes to show how well the author has written this important piece of fictionalized history. The time period, location, mood, characters, etc. come to life as the story unfolds.

I was surprised at some of the other reviews, stating that the book was just plain depressing. I’m not at all sure how a book that deals with the systematic extinction of a race of people can be written about in an uplifting, happy way. Yet, the book is so much more than a story about a German girl who is living in Nazi Germany during WWII. There are many lovely, tender elements to be found in The Book Thief. The additional anniversary edition footnotes written by the author (at the end of the book) provide wonderful insight.

I think it’s extremely important that all generations read books like The Book Thief. This is part of history and, as poet and philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” This is a book that is emotionally draining, but very much worth the read!

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger,took a risk with his second book by making Death an omniscient narrator—and it largely paid off. Originally published in Australia and marketed for ages 12 and up, The Book Thief will appeal both to sophisticated teens and adults with its engaging characters and heartbreaking story. The Philadelphia Inquirer compared the book’s power to that of a graphic novel, with its “bold blocks of action.” If Zusak’s postmodern insertions (Death’s commentary, for example) didn’t please everyone, the only serious criticism came from Janet Maslin, who faulted the book’s “Vonnegut whimsy” and Lemony Snicket-like manipulation. Yet even she admitted that The Book Thief “will be widely read and admired because it tells a story in which books become treasures.” And, as we all know, “there’s no arguing with a sentiment like that.”<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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About the Author

Markus Zusak is the international bestselling author of six novels, including The Book Thief and most recently, Bridge of Clay. His work is translated into more than forty languages, and has spent more than a decade on the New York Times bestseller list, establishing Zusak as one of the most successful authors to come out of Australia.

All of Zusak’s books – including earlier titles, The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, When Dogs Cry (also titled Getting the Girl), The Messenger (or I am the Messenger) – have been awarded numerous honours around the world, ranging from literary prizes to readers choice awards to prizes voted on by booksellers.

Originally published: 2005

AuthorMarkus Zusak

Page count: 584

CharactersLiesel MemingerRudy SteinerMax VandenburgHans HubermannRosa Hubermann

Genres: Novel, Young adult fiction, Historical Fiction

NarratorDeath

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