The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
550 pages, paperback
Published March 14, 2006
Summary: 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. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel 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 before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
My thoughts: Just to give you a quick idea of the impact this novel had on me: for about ten minutes after I finished the last page of the Book Thief the only coherent word I could say was wow. Zusak has written an amazing novel with beautiful writing and a delicate, painful story. It's always been difficult for me to read historical fiction on the Holocaust, because it was such a terrifying, heartbreaking, and infuriating time, but the Book Thief was all of those things, and so much more. It was deep and mesmerizing while managing to have the slightest uplifting tone that made the subject matter bearable. The morbid sense of humor of the narrator--Death itself--gave the book a flair that could have easily been absent. The part I found most amazing was the connections from start to finish. Zusak must have taken a hell of a lot of time going back and forth to create the story so delicately and in such a intricate way. While the Holocaust was without a doubt one of the darkest times in history, the Book Thief deals with the tragedies and losses with poise and refinement, while still revealing the gritty details and the gory descriptions.
Liesel was an amazing character. She starts out as a girl wracked by grief and struck by the abandonment of her mother. She's also immediately close to her foster father, Hans, who loves cigarettes almost as much as he loves Liesel. What I really loved about Liesel was her persistence; no matter what happens, she gets up, brushes off, and moves on; and the way Zusak describes her, and nearly everything else in the novel, made her feel extremely real and tangible.
My favorite character was without a doubt Max Vandenburg, the Jewish fist-fighter Hans hides in their basement. His struggles were painful and it was truly eye-opening to the horrible consequences that Hitler's influence caused. Max was strong throughout the novel, unbelievably grateful to the Hubermans, and extremely kind to Liesel. The best quality about him was his way of writing stories; my favorite parts of the novel were the short stories he writes and the imaginary battles he has with Hitler in the basement. He was just an amazing character, along with everyone else.
That being said, I absolutely loved Hans, Rosa, and Rudy. Hans was the kind of father people dream of having; patient, kind, and brave. Even when he makes mistakes, he realizes them and tries his hardest to correct them. I loved his relationship with Liesel too; it made the book feel much more personal and convincing to see how their relationship blossomed under such harsh conditions. Rose was loving in her strange way, and on multiple ocassions she brought a smile to my face. Even when horrible things are happening to them, Rosa stayed the same; she was the one unchanging variable in a changing world. And Rudy. Oh, Rudy; from the very start I knew I would love Rudy just as much as Liesel. He was different, trusting, teasing, and caring for Liesel, and I just loved everything about his character and attitude.
For the sake of not ruining the ending (even though the narrator kind of does from the start), I'll just say that I was brought to tears for nearly the last 200 pages. Yes, the book does start out slow, and I even put it down for a few days because the story seemed stagnant. But the beautifully written descriptions and morbid, yet light narration brought me back and kept me up late at night. The story was wonderful; heartbreaking and hopeful. It was amazing how much emotion Zusak crammed into only 550 pages. Everything about the Book Thief was lyrical and realistic. It was one of the greatest, most impressive books I've ever read. I can't say it enough; I loved the Book Thief from cover to cover. It truly was unforgettable.
Cover: 5 stars
Characters: 5 stars
Plot: 5 stars
Writing: 5 stars
Overall: 5 stars