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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Why read this?
The cover drew me in immediately and when I read the back cover I was very intrigued. It's been a while since I've picked up a book whilst in a store as none have appealed so this one was pretty special in that respect alone. As it's set in war time Germany that also compelled me to purchase the book.
Liesel is only nine years old and is about to have her little world turned upside down - broken up, torn up and spat out. She and her brother are to go to Himmel Street where they will be fostered by a new family. Her mother leaves her children with deep sadness and fear, Liesel makes it to the new home but her brother doesn't.
The Book Thief:
I have never read a book that was narrated by Death before. Would that appeal? Isn't it rather morbid and gruesome, dark and bleak? In my opinion Death AKA The Grim Reaper is not as bad as I would once have thought; he was actually a pretty good guide to the tale and also managed to endear himself to me with some acts of kindness.
I was compelled to journey with Death on his travels and observations of life on Himmel Street for Liesel and her companions. I was comfortable with the style of writing, which is very different than I am used to as it has lots of short sentences in the composition, even one word sentences - but it works and it makes the book unique.
I could not put this novel down. Every opportune moment saw me with this book in my hands and as each chapter is short in duration it was inviting me in for 'just one more' all the time. I like the interspersed sections that Zusak gifts to the reader (actually coming from Death and always of interest). For example when we meet Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who are to be Liesel's new parents from now, we get a: Some facts about Hans Hubermann indented snippet. Even though it breaks up the prose it works, firstly because it slows the book down and emphasises fact in a short snap, it's like a sharp breeze just swept across your face and consciousness. Also, you get to know lots about a new character in a neat overview. I have really enjoyed how the book is composed. Pace was always good, description was kept to a 'need to know' basis and Zusak stayed with the story.
The set of characters become very well rounded and dynamics develop realistically. I love the fact that the author introduces and presents Rosa as a motor mouth with a hard heart and then bit by bit we get to see her protectiveness and love for those she holds dear. She is a dab hand with a wooden spoon but it's with compassion if and when she wields it.
Hans soon became a favourite; he oozes compassion and his morals and faithfulness appeal. He is the smooth that sits opposite Rosa's rough, he is the opposite of her in his philosophy and actions, or so it would seem - they may well be singing from the same sheet.
Death gifts us with endearing insights into the lives of the people of Himmel Street. As war breaks out (Second World War) the timeline begins to come into play and from where I sat it all seemed to be true to history as to when events took place. Of course the horrors that were soon inflicted on the Jews played a part in the prose and this is where Zusak's short sentences, especially one word, showed their strengths. Hard hitting in few words. Thought provoking images presented themselves before my eyes and my senses were assaulted.
All the while I was reading the pages I was stunned by the sheer beauty of the writing style that this talented author is gifted with. Words flow beautifully into sentences, paragraphs, pages and before you know it another chapter is gone. I feel that I want to re-read it again now that has never happened before.
The main protagonist is appealing, of course being a child torn from her mother had something to do with my sympathy and empathy but what I liked more than that was her resolve, her courage and her strength of character. I should at this point mention that she is also a thief, her first book taken early in the tale, but that doesn't make her unlikeable as it allows depth into her psyche, it means that she is all the more interesting and I wanted to know more about her and of course what happens to her.
I can't go further without mentioning a delight that this book holds, that is a young man called Rudy. This boy is a typical, mischievous lad but boy does he get into your heart, I have a real soft spot for him and enjoyed watching his character develop and get some real meat on his bones. Death hints at some shortcoming in relation to Rudy and I didn't want my heart broken, I wanted a happy ending for him and Liesel.
At 554 pages this book is shorter than recent King tomes that I have devoured but none the less it holds within it a tale that will touch your heart, keep you turning pages and present a realistic and raw image of how life may have been experienced by the hard up inhabitants who lived on Himmel Street. These people had their conflicts and some even disliked each other (with a vengeance) but how would war impact on them, how would they cope with sharing a bomb shelter together when they are all at their most vulnerable and crippled by fear as the bombs begin to fall? Zusak portrays his impression of war torn Himmel Street with ease and I found it utterly breath-taking.
How do you tell a little girl that her parents have been taken to a concentration camp? You don't and then you hope for the best -- how do young girls react when they discover the truth? That is something that Death knows and you will discover if and when you read the book.
Death has a fact to tell us all, it's short and sweet: You are going to die.
www.bookbutler.com will do a comprehensive online search.
Currently available at all good book stores.
£7.99 though can be picked up for more or less half that price from some supermarkets at present.
What was not to like about this book, I have no hesitation in recommending it to you. If you like Second world war based tales then this one may well appeal, set in Germany it was something new for me and I liked the use of some German language in the prose too (always translated to English). There is some humour in the prose which offsets the very serious nature of the tale which is not solely about stealing books, though a few are taken. Pages turn readily and the book is difficult to put down, pace is always appropriate and it is narrated in the first person by the Grim Reaper, something that I've not experienced before so I really enjoyed it. There are some dark and upsetting moments but then this is based at a time when history tells some gruesome stories. Character development is superb, lots to like and some to dislike. It feels realistic and believable and importantly I liked the main protagonist, Liesel. Some great human observation on Zusak's part. It's a book I'll definitely read again.
Published on Ciao
© dawnymarie 2014
I picked this up when it was on a recommended list and it is not something I would normally read (I am a horror and thriller kind of girl).
A few lend out later and my book is well thumbed and totally dog earred but, it just makes it look as loved and well read as it should do.
From the quirky narrative of Death's opening lines, this book pulls at your heart and moral compass.
The characters are believable and each one brings a new element to the story. Leisel is a fantastic herione in the tale, witty and strong, despite her circumstances.
The balance between her gentle foster father and bossy foster mother is fantastic.
It is a different view of some of the events of the WW2 and it feels refreshing.
I got to the last hundred pages and knew what was going to happen. Death tells you it's going to happen. And at half 12 at night I sat and read those last hundred pages. I couldn't stop. And through the last 30 pages I cried. I don't think a book has ever made me feel so emotional as this one.
This book is aimed at the teen market but I think every one should read it. It is just amazing!
If you're one of those people who skim reads reviews and maybe miss out on some stuff in the middle, I'll start with one important piece of information and one piece of advice: The Book Thief is, quite simply, one of the best books I have ever read. Go and buy a copy. Now.
If you're still with me, let me explain further. The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany during the late 1930s/early 1940s. A young girl Liesel is taken by her mother and abandoned with a new foster mother and father. Despite the emotional wrench, Liesel slowly settles in and experiences all the joys of childhood, as well as witnessing many events that no young child should ever have to suffer. Along the way, she finds solace in books and the power of words.
As you might suspect from the setting this is a book which has a strong emotional core. This is obvious straight from the off when Liesel's younger brother dies on the way to their new foster home and is buried in an unmarked grave in an anonymous cemetery. Straight away, the author gut-punches you, taking away a character before you have even got to know them, yet managing to evoke a strong emotional response from the reader. The Book Thief might be a fascinating read, but don't always expect an easy one.
Despite the rather sombre and emotionally charged subject matter, the book has a rather good sense of humour running through it. This might sound a little inappropriate under the circumstances, but works surprisingly well. This humour comes through some of the banter between characters or the observations made about people and is satisfyingly dark and cynical. As well as providing a slightly lighter touch (some relief from the more serious issues the book raises), it also underlines how people are trying to carry on as normally as possible can under very difficult and dangerous circumstances.
The author should be congratulated for showing a carefully nuanced vision of life in Nazi Germany. This makes a welcome change from the usual non-German one where everyone is a fanatical Nazi supporter. Yes, there are fanatical supporters, but these are more in the minority. Most of the characters go along with it because they are too weak to resist, or it is too dangerous not to; whilst a few brave souls refuse to go down what they see as a very dangerous path and have to live with the dangers and consequences of this refusal to conform. This allows the reality of human nature to show through. Some characters can be mean and cruel; others extremely kind, risking their lives and the lives of those they love for a complete stranger. Most lie somewhere in the middle and are very human - capable of coldness and deep warmth; kindness and cruelty. Liesel's adopted mother, for example, appears very harsh towards the child, yet clearly has a deep affection for her which she simply finds it difficult to show. Zusak perfectly captures all these elements of human nature and shows how different people respond to the same circumstances in very different ways.
This is a real strength of this book and something which distinguishes it from so many other war-based novels. It is beautifully written and changes tone frequently, but naturally. One minute, it is full of happiness; the next full of sadness. One minute characters are in the depths of despair and anxiety; the next one of life's odd little events comes along to take their mind off the misery that surrounds them. In other words, it is a book about life (and, of course, death).
It's true that the writing style takes some getting used to. It's narrated from the perspective of Death as an impartial observer and has a rather quirky tone which initially appears to be at odds with the story. Indeed, one of my first comments to Mrs SWSt when I started reading this was that I wasn't sure I would enjoy it because of the odd tone.
Once you get used to it, however (and this will only take a few short chapters), you realise how perfectly suited it is. It's hard to define why, but somehow the quirky, off-beat narrative style contributes massively to the book's superb story. It also helps that chapters are very short and split down into sub-chapters (which encourages you to read on just a little bit more) and many of the sub-sections start with quirky observations (which are not always related to what follows) which instantly pique your curiosity.
The author even gets away with a complete narrative no-no: revealing things that will happen later in the book. This should be suicidal, removing all sense of tension. After all, what's the point in reading on when you already know what is going to happen? Very early on, we are told that one major character will die before the end, and even which one. Yet so skilfully is the novel crafted that this is irrelevant. You read on, anxious to know the how and why and it strengthens your emotional connection with that character. Knowing their fate, you urge them to make the most of every single minute they have left to them, and you are already grieving for those left behind.
Don't let the size of the book put you off, either. I initially started reading this having just finished one of Stieg Larsson's Girl books (very thick, very intense) and wondered whether it would be wise to read another 600 page book straight away. Yet I found it an absolute delight. I didn't want to point it down and breezed through it in about three days, loving every second. It's fitting that a book that is (partly) about the joy of reading and the power of words should itself be an excellent read.
One aspect of the book I did find annoying was that the author often used German phrases within the English prose, and felt the need to translate them, leading to some slightly clunky lines. Perhaps it's because I can speak German, but I felt that these translations were often unnecessary. Many were easy to work out; even if you didn't understand the precise words, you could understand the sentiment from the context. Moreover, some of the translations were rather clumsy. Zusak tended to provide literal translations, where sometimes more idiomatic interpretations would have sounded more natural. He repeatedly uses the phrases "alles gut" for example (literal translation: "all is good") where a more natural and accurate representation of the phrase in English might be "everything's fine".
The Book Thief is nothing less than a magnificent achievement. A superb work of literature and an entertaining book in its own right it will invoke a whole range of responses in the reader. Don't tell Mrs SWSt but as events drew to a close, I genuinely found myself on the verge of tears as the promised deaths and tragedies started to unfold. I can honestly say that a book has never had that effect on me before. Beautifully written and intensely powerful, it is a book everyone should read.
The Book Thief
Black Swan, reprint edition 2008
Copyright SWSt 2013
This book is certainly not for the faint hearted, it's gripping, exciting and harrowing and a real page turner. It covers a very emotional and very real subject, WW2 and more importantly the persecution of Jews and Nazi Germany during this time. It's fantastically and cleverly written and I only have praise for this book and the author Markus Zusak.
I was first drawn to the book after studying Nazi Germany for A Level and having it recommended to me by my course tutor. I finally decided to pick it up and read it a few months ago and it took me around about two weeks to complete. The book is 554 pages long which may seem a lot but there really needs to be that many to fit as much detail in as Zusak does.
The book follows the story of Liesel Memminger who is sent to live with a foster family on Himmel Street near Munich. Her parents have been sent away to a concentration camp. The first part of the story sees how Liesel adapts to life living with the Hubermanns. She learns to read and soon develops a real love for books, stealing them at every opportunity she gets, these books have their own stories connected to them which makes them even more special to Liesel. Later on in the story Max arrives at the Hubermanns house, Max is a Jew and Liesel has to keep him a secret. Max and Liesel develop a strong friendship.
The book covers a wide range of topics, as well as the main theme of War and Nazi Germany it also covers friendship, love, belonging and death. It explores what it was like to live in Nazi Germany at the point of WW2 and it shows that not all Germans hated Jews and that many Germans felt trapped in a society ruled by persecution and punishment.
The book is narrated by 'Death' which is something which takes a while to wrap your head around but once you do you realise just how clever the author is. The narration makes the book stand out from others of a similar topic and in the end you find yourself actually feeling empathy towards 'Death' who is given his own voice and personality and isn't just a state.
Throughout the books there are little quotes and extracts taken from a dictionary which at first makes the book a bit hard to follow but once you get into it really adds to the reading. The chapters tend to be quite short as well and it's clear that Markus Zusak hasn't followed the typical convention of book writing; he has his own distinctive style of writing which is consistent throughout the book.
In my opinion this is one of the best and cleverest books I've ever read and I've read quite a lot. It's exciting throughout and you feel really empathy towards the main characters. I cried at a lot of points through this and as I stated at the beginning of my review this is not for the faint hearted. If you prefer easy reading, chick lit type books then stay away from this.
Okay so we've heard of abstract art well this is an abstract piece of fiction! Never before have I come across a book written in this style and never before have I been so amazed by how, although it appears disjointed, it actually captures your imagination so well that you don't want to put the book down.
This book is witten by death. Yes, that's right, death. This is a very strange concept but you do learn to get your head around it quite quickly! It is set in WW2 so you can imagine that death does have a lot to tell!
The main character is a young girl; Leisel Memminger who is sent away to live with a foster family near Munich. The foster family are very poor, you are made aware of this right away but they take her in and care for her. The foster father Hans Hubermann becomes a firm friend to Leisel and helps her to learn to read.
As Leisel develops she finds a love for reading and books and takes any opportunity she can to 'steal' a book. The family are very poor and so they don't have the money to buy luxuries. Leisel even scavanges newspapers from bins to be able to read them and fill in the crosswords along with Max.
Max is someone we must keep secret. Max is someone living in the basement of the Hubermann's who shouldn't be there. Max is a Jew and Jews are not welcome in Munich Street and if anyone is caught saving a Jew then they will be 'dealt with'.
Leisel has to hide this secret and keep Max to herself. The book continues to follow Leisel as she makes friends with Rudy, helps her foster mother with her washing, learns that she can have a very close relationship with her foster father. All the while only too aware that there is a huge secret she is keeping from her friends.
As the war draws nearer and they have to find shelter when airraids occur Leisel is found as a great person to have in your shelter as she always takes her books with her and reads to everyone to help distract them from the terrors happening above.
As the book continues you learn about the true horrors of war, the way that ordinary German's viewed the situation and just how terrifying it was for them as well as the Jews.
This book is written in a strange way as I mentioned earlier. There are constant page breaks where 'Death' will quote from a dictionary or draw a picture or describe a colour of a sky in great detail. This is so hap-hazard that at first I thought I wouldnt be able to follow the story as it dips in and out of various time points but it's so very wel written that you still can follow the story well and don't end up confused unlike with so many other books that try to take on a 'different' approach.
The book covers a topic I hadn't really considered before. I never think of the war in terms of the German lay man's point of view. As far as I'm concerned all of the German's wanted to cause terror and punish the Jews but when I read this I realised that there were innocent german citizens that were being injured, harmed and killed as a result of their own leader. The German's were not all supporting Hitler, some of them, actually hated him. This was something I had never considered.
The fact that the story was told by Death added a different element. It provided facts concerning the huge number of people killed in a war, how graphic some of these deaths were, how the death toll just kept rising and rising. It was none stop.
I think that this book despite being about the war wasn't action packed. There weren't hundreds of dramatic sounding scenes like you would imagine there would be from a book based about war but instead very carefully described atmospheres instead. This book is more based around the relationships between the characters and the opinions and views of German citizens instead of bombarding you with pages full of action.
This book stands out from other war books for many reasons. It is so very different in terms of how it is written and from the point of view. It's a nice change to hear a different side to things.
There are also interesting ideas too which Zusak points out- how the sky changes colour throughout the day and how nobody ever seems to notice this. He refers to 'the colours' so frequently that now I often do take the time to notice what colour the sky is!
I think if you're looking for a different kind of read then this is the book for you. You don't have to be interested in the war to enjoy this, it is a book for all people with all interests. Perhaps it's not for you if you will struggle with the aspect of it being quite abstract but you do soon learn to adjust to the writing style.
I really recommend this book, it was such a different an interesting read that I got through in just a matter of days. I look forward to reading more from this author in due course.
Back in the early days of Friends Joey and Rachel give each other books to read and Joey ends up traumatised with Little Women to an extent that he has to put the book in the freezer, just to get away from how intense it is. At the time I laughed and giggled, but...tbh, towards the end of this book I was seriously thinking Joey might have had the right idea and considered clearing out my own freezer and putting it in.
I really don't know what to say about this book apart from the fact that it's a book that everyone should read. I don't think I could really put into words the effect this book had on me. It made me smile, it made me laugh and it made me break down and sob. I'm an emotional person when it comes to books so crying is nothing new, but I literally cried for 20 mins because of things that happened in this book even though we knew what happened, and got reminded numerous times throughout about how it would end.
Death as a narrator is an original idea, but it isn't all morbid. The years of Liesel's life that is covered has the spectre of tragedy over it, but there are also moments of humour and playfulness.
The fact that the book is about a German girl, in a German house during WW2 is actually refreshing. We have Liesel and Rudy, our two young characters, being members of the Hitler Youth despite their, and their family's dislike of nazism. We have Liesel's adoptive father applying to join the Nazi party, despite the fact he protects Jews. We have the tragedy at the end happen because the Allies deliberately bombed a residential area...war's a shady business and even the 'good guys' do bad things.
There's nothing about the book that doesn't work - Death's narration, Liesel's experiences, the little asides, the books that she steals and is given, what we realise could have happened with the benefit of hindsight if certain decisions hadn't been made...you get the sense of what if? What if one little thing had been different?
This story hasn't been told before - about a German girl, in a German family, with German friends who are all bound by forces outwith their control. Disobedience leads to whippings, and father's being sent on potential suicide missions and being outcast. Compliance leads to making teary Heil Hitler proclamations at book burnings, or watching Jews be marched through the town towards a concentration camp, or being noticed by people you don't want to notice you. So much modern perception on WW2 has two sides - Germans=bad and everyone else=good. In the real world it doesn't work like that and this book shows that.
It's an amazing piece of writing and everyone should read it. Just make sure you have a box of hankies as well...trust me, there is no way that you won't need them.
The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death itself, who follows the story of a young girl, Liesel Meminger as she goes to live with a foster family after being abandoned by her mother and witnesses the death of her younger brother. During her time with Hubermann family, she makes a number of close friends, including a Jew, Max who seeks protection in the Hubermanns' basement. Through her friendship with Max, the guidance of her foster father, Hans and the taking of her first book found on the ground of her brothers graveside, Liesel learns to read and finds a passion like she never knew before. As the title suggests, before long she resorts to stealing books in order to fulfil her need to learn and read new stories. As much as Liesel loves to escape into one of her growing collection of books, they can not save her from the terrible things going on around her under Hitler's rule, and eventually she finds out no one can escape death forever.
It took me a little while to get to grips with this book. As I mentioned it's narrated by Death, which is more than a little unusual to begin with. In addition to this, it's punctuated by headings and quotes that at first seem a little odd, but as I read more, I got used to this and by the end it became clear what these quotes actually were about. I won't spoil it for you, but I'd just advise if you intend to read this and struggle to begin with, I'd urge to to stick with it because it really will be worth it.
The writing flits between straight forward story telling and Death using many metaphors to describe what he sees. I particularly like the way he describes what he sees in colours. At first, I struggled to understand this but after it crops up a few times I began to find it really adds to the description of the atmosphere of the scene. -
"The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places it was burned. There were black crumbs and pepper, streaked amoungst the redness."
Once I'd got into this book, and used to the unusual style I was hooked. The main character, Liesel is a courageous, likeable girl and as a reader I was with her the whole way. As Death narrates it he(?) actually lets out a few on purpose spoilers, saying when he 'met' certain characters before the story actually gets there. However, this actually adds to the affect and gently reminds you who's speaking throughout as more than once I forgot, being so engrossed in the story.
The book begins with one of those quotes I mentioned -
**HERE IS A SMALL FACT**
You are going to die
Essentially the story is just telling us how the characters reach the inevitable time when our narrator catches up with them, some slipping through his fingers a few times before he eventually gets them. He often comments about seeing some characters on his way to collect others. This I found particularly chilling.
This is quite a dark book as you might gather, with death being the main theme, after all this is at the time of the Second World War and Death is very busy. Having said that there are a number of very humorous parts, especially the sections featuring Liesel and her best friend, Rudy. There are also some moving parts, the relationships between Liesel, Hans and Max are particularly touching.
While the issues raised by the war, the situation of the family and the twists and turns of little girl's life make for a compelling read, the strength in this book is the characters. As I've mentioned Liesel is resourceful bright and likeable girl, complimented by Rudy, her cheeky friend. Then there's the brilliant foster parents, Rosa and Hans. Rosa is a large, foul mouthed lady with a harsh exterior, but we later see her soft side. In contrast, Hans is a friendly, good man which gets him into hot water being against the Nazi regime, however as a reader, again, we are with him all the way. I found the introduction of these two very funny, Rosa's foul language is translated to English and reads in some paragraphs like a manual for how to swear in German, very informative! The rest of the characters that live on Himmel Street are equally as interesting, and whilst they have their feuds between them, it's very moving the way it's all forgotten when the air raid sirens sound.
The Book Thief is written by Australian author, Markus Zusak. Whilst essentially a work of fiction, I've learned since reading it that a few incidents in the book were based on truth, from things that his mother witnessed during the war.
I have not read any other work by Zusak and this was a bit of an impulse read, but I intend to now as based on this he is a unique and talented author.
The Book Thief is classed as 'Young Adult' or Children's book in the places I've seen it but don't let that influence you. Myself and my mother both read this and loved it, and I think there's a few parts that may be on the heavy side for a Children.
I don't tend to like books about war, as such but some of the best books I've read are set in war time, and about the people that aren't fighting but struggling to live day to day, and making the best of the situations that war puts them in. This is one of those books. The Second World War in The Book Thief acts as a backdrop for a moving tale of friendship, loss and the courage of a little girl.
I can not recommend this book enough, I cared deeply for the characters and in the end felt as if I knew them, the mark of a well written book. The Book Thief is the only book that made me cry when I closed the back cover, not only for the moving and devastatingly sad moments in the story, but for the fact I'd finished of the best books I've ever read.
'The Book Thief' is set in Nazi Germany covering the period before and during the Second World War. The story follows Liesel, a nine year old girl who is fostered by Hans and Rosa Hubermann living on an average German street. Into the story comes a fascinating cast of characters including Rudy Steiner, Liesel's best friend, The mayor and his wife who encourages the book thief and Max, the Jew the Hubermann's risk their lives for by hiding in the basement.
Although the book is told through first person it is not narrated by any of the people involved in the community where the story is set, instead it is told through the perspective of Death.
I absolutely loved this book but will happily admit that it might not be to everyone's liking and the writing style is quite difficult to get to grips with. As it is told through 'Death' it does not follow your average first person narration. The author does quite well in making him very 'otherworldy' with a lot of powerful metaphors, similes and synesthetic descriptions. Death often interjects with a little note to the reader set aside quite clearly on the page in bold, separating them from the flow of the narrative and disrupting it somewhat. If you can get your head around this it's well worth it, but I know a few friends who could not get past the first chapter because of this rather different tecnique.
In terms of the actual story I found it refreshing. This was the story of Liesel, her family and their community. It was all very normal. I have read many books set during the Second World War and found they focus very much on extraordinary individuals, fictional or otherwise. But the Hubermann family are just a normal German family, they do not support the Nazi party but will go along with it for their own safety, as we know many Germans did during this period. Of course they have moments of bravery and at times show great courage but it is a very 'average person' type of courage that shows most of us could do great things in such trying conditions. I was impressed that the war itself did not become the main focus of the story. Instead it was an event that impacted upon the family and the story dealt with the effects of this event. It is a very emotional read and yes, I did cry at the end. A lot.
The novel is aimed at young teens but I would recommend this book to anyone of any age group, I am sure that not being a teenager would not diminish this reading experience in the slightest.
It is hard to know what to say about this novel, to be honest.
It is the story of Liesel, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany, fostered by Hans and Rosa Hubermann. The book deals with matters of the Jews and the Holocaust in a poignant manner.
To start with I struggled with the idea of Death as the narrator, especially his little asides to the audience. I found it more intrusive than anything. However, once the story of Liesel and the many characterful people she encounters begins properly, the book does become gripping. It is quite a slow burn and I do find it more of an annoyance than a literary device that Death gives up some of the future details of the story - I would have preferred to see them revealed as they happened rather than being foreshadowed from page one.
My favourite character is Max, the Jew looked after in the basement by the Hubermanns - it is heart-breaking to realise what he is destined to go through as a Jew in Nazi Germany.
I also love the fact that the power of words is a constant theme, especially because the author uses his own words in such a moving and haunting fashion. The language is compelling and beautiful.
Altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be keeping it for a re-read, but I didn't think it was an instant classic.
This has been posted to Floor to Ceiling Books
The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany, beginning in 1939, narrated by death. Now that sounds pretty depressing, but don't let it put you off.
The book centres around Liesel, a child when the book begins, who has been sent to live with foster family, Rosa and Hans, shortly before the outbreak of war. The story centres around her and the family she lives with and the friends she makes - all set against a backdrop of war and the oppression and murder of the Jews - whilst the family hide a Jew their basement. Death is drawn to her after he meets her at different events in her life.
But it isn't a novel about the war itself - it's about Liesel, her friendships, her courage, loss, her struggle to read and write and the love she has of words when she does manage it - and typical teenage problems, like falling in love. And yes, cheesy as it sounds, it's about the incredible human capacity to produce hate and love. And what we will do in order to protect others - and survive ourselves. And the guilt this brings.
The book is not written in a typical fashion, it has some quirky lists, which you will see an example of on the back of the book and frequently tells you the end or about different events before they happen. Plus, it's narrated by death, which gives the whole book a otherworldly feeling, though it's not depressing - he's compassionate and has genuine affection for humans.
It does take a bit of getting used to, but once you get drawn in, this is an amazing book. There are plenty of books that tackle the war and the horrors of what happened to the Jews, but it's the book's subtlety that makes it moving - for example when death talks about his 'workload' - he talks about collecting souls from the chimneys and the smoke of the death camps - subtle but really moving.
The characters are so easy to like - or to hate - that it makes what happens to them all the more affecting. Rudy (Liesel's friend) in particular is someone I felt really connected to.
Now, some people may steer clear of this, because they think it's depressing - and don't get me wrong, it did upset me - but more than anything, you come away feeling uplifted at the amazing capcacity that humans have to be wonderful - and not just horror at how we also have the capacity to be truly evil.
Now stop reading this review and go and buy this book.
The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, a nine year old girl living in Nazi Germany in 1939. She is separated from her family by the premature death of her younger brother and by being fostered to Rosa and Hans Hubermann who live in Molching. At first Liesel is extremely traumatised by the change in situation, missing her family terribly and finding solace in the sporadic theft of books that she comes across, despite the fact that she is unable to read.
They scrape a living by Hans being a painter and decorator and Rosa taking in washing and ironing from local dignatries. Rosa and Liesel's relationship is strained at best, with the older woman being very strict with Liesel. However, Hans and Liesel soon develop a very strong bond with him giving her secret reading lessons during the night.
In time, Liesel also begins to develop friendships with people near her, including Rudy a local troublemaker who idolises Jesse Owens and the wife of the mayor who gives her access to her extensive library
As time progresses the war begins to have a devastating impact on the residents of the town, not least the arrival of a person from Hans' past who changes the Hubermann's and especially Liesel's life but also puts them in mortal danger.
One thing which I haven't mentioned, but adds an extra dimension to this story is that it is in fact narrated by Death, and this is made apparent from the very beginning.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this book and found it really hard to put down. I obviously had a look at the blurb on the back and knew from that that it was going to be something a bit different to normal.
For the first few chapters, where Death introduces itself and explains its nature, ambition and initial relationship with Liesel - I did find it slightly odd and wondered if I would be able to get used to it. However, it is so well written that it becomes easy to settle in to this. It is quite an original concept and one which adds an extra depth to an already dense story but also a real sense of foreboding to the overall proceedings. We know that death is there for a reason, but we are only sometimes, not always sure when it will strike next.
The story is very, very engaging and interesting - running the full gamut of emotions and displaying the far reaching effects of the Second World War on ordinary people in Germany, away from the fighting and politics that was taking place elsewhere.
Alongside the excellent characterisation, it is also noticeable how beautifully some of the relationships between the characters are painted; particularly between Liesel and her foster father and Liesel and another character who emerges halfway through the novel. Some of what was written about these relationships is amongst the most touching prose that I can remember reading for a very long time.
There are also a couple of occasions where the prose is broken up by illustrations with accompanying stories which are wonderfully done and not at all contrived.
In conclusion, if you want an offbeat, touching and ultimately absorbing read then seek out this book.
***The Book Thief***
Markus Zusak is an Australian writer. He is the son of an Austrian father and a German mother. Jews were marched through the small German town where his mother grew up and he was inspired by stories like this, that he heard when he was growing up. For anyone that is interested, here is a link for an interview with the author about how he came to write the book -
Come with me and I'll tell you a story...
THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH
it's a small story about:
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery
ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW -
Death will visit the book thief three times.
This is the blurb on the back of the book cover and just about sums up the plot, but I will tell you a little more...
The main protagonist is nine year old Liesel who is living with a foster family on Himmel Street in Germany; the year is 1939. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Early on in the book Liesel steals her first book and the story outlines how the war treats ordinary German citizens like Liesel and her family and friends.
Death is the narrator and tells the story of Liesel offering his/her perspective along the way. Death visits Liesel three times and these occasions are again introduced early on in the book. I think that writing about 'death' , 'immortality' and the 'afterlife' has become quite fashionable at the moment - I suppose at least it is something we all have in common lol.
The main characters are Liesel's foster father Hans Hubermann, her foster mother Rosa Hubermann, her friend Rudy and a Jew named Max. Of course there are other supporting characters, but these are the ones that touch us the most. This is about as much of the plot as I will give away - after recent criticism I have decided to err on the side of caution.
The book cover shows us a young girl dancing with what looks like the Grim Reaper.
I put off reading this book for a while as I didn't fancy sitting down with my glass of red, reading about death and getting all melancholy.
However, I fancied reading something a bit more challenging after my recent forays and after seeing many five star reviews, decided to give it a go.
I was determined not to cry....
An interesting character, but one which makes his/her mark nontheless. I liked how we saw death's perspective; overworked in a war claiming bodies like nothing seen before. I particularly like the last line in the book (which of course I won't reveal)
Liesel is a character you can immediately warm to and sympathise with. The author successfully recreates what it might have been like for a child growing up without her parents, broken, in a Germany she despises. Having said this, she is no Mary-Sue and the changes she goes through are realistic and well portrayed. Her friendship with Rudy is particularly well handled and I enjoyed seeing them become partners in crime.
When I first saw where the story was going, I was sure it was going to be in the direction of wicked foster family and while it is certainly no bed of roses, this part of the story did not follow the predictable path it could have done. Hans has his own interesting story to tell, spanning back to the First World War, which goes on to become a central, crucial point of the plot. The description given of Hans in particular makes it easy to see him in your mind's eye and again have empathy with him.
Rosa on the surface is the original nagging wife. She struggles to make ends meet and takes in washing to supplement the family income. Even though at first she wasn't a character I could sympathise with, by the end of the book she had won me round.
Rudy was the true hero of the book; a teenager and best friend to Liesel. The banter between the pair of them was funny and I particularly liked the scene where Rudy tries to imitate Jesse Owens - even going so far to dress up like him. Their relationship builds nicely and again, the author resists the temptation to turn the pair of them into a cliche. I think that some of the most touching scenes took place between these two. I also like his defiance with the leader of The Hitler Youth and his tenacity as he stuck to what he believed in.
The story of Max was key to the story and he was written in such a way that you truly felt his fear as a Jew in hiding. Again, the physical descriptions were spot on and small pleasures Max enjoys (Liesel descibing the weather) that might be taken for granted by everyone who has their freedom, made me count my blessings. I liked the way the plot moved forward for his character and again, the author avoided making his journey all neat and tidy.
The star of this book is the voice. The style and voice of the author is like no other that I have come across before. You will either love it and be pulled into the story or you will view it as some cheap literary trick which turns you off. The book is broken down into ten segments (the reason as to why this is becomes clear at the end). Each chapter is introduced with a list of features - for example the first chapter is introduced as featuring the following:
* Himmel street
* the art of saumenching
* an iron-fisted woman
* a kiss attempt
* jesse owens
* the smell of friendship
* a heavyweight champion
* and the mother of all watschens
I liked this style as it gave me an idea of what was coming up - or so I thought...There were many phrases of the book that were written in German, but this was always translated into English. I felt that it did in fact add to the authentic feel of the book. In fact there were lots of little explanations and observations by death highlighted in bold type throughout the book. I liked this touch as the points were often amusing and quirky and also lightened the feel of the book, which at times was heavy on description. Some people might be put off by this style and feel it is stilted and breaks with a traditional writing style, but overall I liked this touch.
I also liked the 'book within book' that appeared as books that had been written by the characters were inserted into the text. Again, imagery was heavy in one of the stories and I didn't get it totally - but never mind - I got the overall message.
Still on the subject of style, I need to point out that this book is heavy on metaphor, simile, imagery and just about every literary device there is. The use of colour within descriptions is found on every other page - so be aware of this. If I am being honest, at times I felt a bit thick and would re-read the sentence, trying to capture what the author had in mind. After a while, I gave up and settled for being thick...Nevertheless, it didn't take away from my enjoyment and I truly admire the imagination of the author as well as his attention to detail.
The author uses a fair bit of flash foward and foreshadowing so you have an idea of what might be coming, but it didn't spoil what was coming. In fact, overall I think the author resisted heavily the temptation to make everything fit nicely together and for this I think he should be applauded. That is not to say that it is all bad news, there are some parts of the book which are quite uplifting.
In particular it offers an insight into what life was like for German people not keen on the vision of Germany that Adolf Hitler had to offer. It highlights their struggle with trying to follow their conscience, whilst not putting their own families in harm's way. I really liked the minor rebellions that took place, even if they were in the comfort of their own homes or minds. It just goes to show that it wasn't just 'the enemy' who lived in fear at this time. The antics of The Hitler Youth were just plain scary, especially for those who didn't wish to have any part of it.
The book kept pace nicely and there was plenty of tension and suspense that made you hold your breath, as you cringed with what might come next. I think the book took him around three years to write and you can see the level of research and attention to detail that is contained within the story.
I wouldn't hesistate in recommending this book - even if you think it isn't your cup of tea. Occasionally I think it is nice to read something outside of one's comfort zone. After all, death will visit us all - at least once...
I got my book from the library, but I will be buying my own copy. It is available from Amazon for £3.95.
It has 560 pages.
Publisher - Black Swan
PS I almost succumbed - but didn't cry in the end...
This book is without a doubt one of the most interesting and unique pieces of fiction I have ever come across in my life. It strikes the reader as unusual from the very beginning, as we are introduced to a surprisingly humorous narrator: death.
This narrator interrupts the story at different points in the book with a commentary which develops the sense of dread surrounding the mysterious life of the main character, a young German girl named Liesel. Her story is a very touching one, as she loses all of her family and is adopted into another family, who hide a runaway Jew during the heart of world war two and Hitler's Nazi regime.
I think this book is interesting mainly because it successfully explores the world of Nazi Germany through the eyes of a young girl who understandably struggles to comprehend the changes going on around her, especially as her best friends are a neighboring family of Jews.
This book even uses images and illustrations to develop and enrich the story, and anyone who is familiar with the historical context of this book will appreciate the importance of remembering these kind of stories. Without ruining the plot, the ending is emotive, as can be expected.
It is not often you read a book where death is the narrator, this book sets itself apart from the rest of the crowd straight away. The main character of the book is a little girl called Liesel her family have been taken to a concentration camp and she is living with foster parents. She is living in a horrible time and trying to make the best of it that she knows how. This involves escaping through the stories of books that she manages to steal from a rich house in the town. It is called the Book Thief however she does not really steal the books as the owner is aware that she takes them. Which leads to anothe character which again is full of sadness. The story itself is not that astounding it, the beauty of this book is more in its characters which are all different, beautiful and sad. This is a book about friendship, love and how humans relate to each other.
A lovely story that has well developed characters and vivid descriptions of events, people and feelings.
I never thought I would read a book and have compassion for the devil but here the devil narrates the story and makes a really good job of it. The book follows a child who lives in pre war germany and it tells of her family and friends. The descriptions of the childs foster mum and her interactions with Liesel really made me smile.
I finished the book in one sitting, read it cover to cover and then turned the last page over and still wanted there to me more. Thats quite a surprise as I don't usually read anything of a historical nature (fiction or non fiction).
Don't be put off by the references to death, the book is not macbre or morbid and it manages to be quite an uplifting tale throughout.
Grade 9 UpZusak 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 bookalthough she has not yet learned how to readand 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.