Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak -- Book Review

It's been almost 10 years since my sweet BookCrossing friend, dg7500, gifted me with this book. A lot of crazy life has happened in between---including the birth of four more children, my husband entering and graduating college, six moves (one cross country), and more. I'm staying with my mom in Oregon for the summer and discovered this book in a box of things she was storing for me in her basement. I brought it upstairs to be added to the summer TBR shelf I was building in my attic bedroom.

A few weeks later, I joined a swap on Swap-Bot which required my swapping partner to pick my next book from my Goodreads TBR list. For the swap, I am to read a book, write a 1-2 page review, and send it to my partner---all before the end of June. I listed 25 books on my TBR shelf, this one included, not thinking about the fact that this novel is 552 pages long. Sure enough, this was the one my partner chose---and I had a little freakout at the thought of reading only one book this month.

Suffice it to say, my fears were unfounded. I began this book less than 48 hours ago and have done very little else since then but consume it. 200 pages in one sitting, 200 pages in another. Then I forced myself to shower. Then another 80 pages. Then sleep. Then the last 70 pages in less than an hour before I could begin my day.

From the cover: "'It's just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery....'

Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist--books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, where they are to be found.

With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel 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. Markus Zusak has crafted an unforgettable novel about the ability of books to feed the soul."

The first and most important thing I'd like to say about this story is the last thing I wrote down---the truth I realized less than 20 pages from the end. That is, history's propaganda is still telling us the Germans murdered the Jews. 70 years after the holocaust, many Americans hold a muted grudge against the Germans. We hear the word and we immediately think Hitler and we bristle. Today's propaganda tells us the Muslims are terrorists. We hear Muslim and we immediately think ISIS and our hate boils over.

The truth is that the Germans who murdered the Jews were extremists. They did not accurately represent the whole of Germany's attitude toward the persecuted. And so, so much was accepted out of fear. It is so sad how many Germans, like Liesel's father, likely had a desire to help but felt they couldn't because of the repercussions of being a "Jew lover". I don't need to explain how this all parallels current events.

"The sun was blond and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye." How many in our younger generations won't understand this symbolism as we butcher history's truths? This is a story that still needs to be told.

Beginning the book, I wasn't at all sure what to think. Should I keep reading? Am I going to be able to handle this? The story is narrated by Death, but he's not a mean or evil entity---just an inevitable one. In fact, I began to feel sympathetic for "Death" by the end of the book. The opening tragedy hit me hard as it parallels a personal tragedy and the separation of Liesel's family mirrored some of my own fears while my kids and I are separated from my husband by 1,800 miles right now. {We're in Oregon visiting my mom for the summer---he's in Arkansas working.}

The story quickly pulled me in with phrases like, "burning words were torn from their sentences."

One beautiful thing about this story was the way in which the author approached such horrific subject matter. Told mainly from the perspective of preteens, I was able to see the beauty of the German people and the goodness of humanity. There was a lot of innocence in this story. "Death" would offer a foreshadowing phrase or event and I'd think the worst was coming...but then it wouldn't be at all what I thought. This says a lot about me...

I loved this quote about knowing the ending of a story but reading it anyway: "It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me."

This book changed me. I am so grateful.


  1. I've not read the book, but I did see the movie. It will rate as one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing it today because I'd like to read it.

  2. I am glad you enjoyed this book. It sounds very intense!