Sunday, 18 March 2012

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

Published: 14th March, 2006
Publisher: Picador
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 574

Cover Art
When a book has multiple covers I usually prefer one over the others by quite a large margin. Not in the case of 'The Book Thief'. I personally think all three covers are beautiful and represent the book really well. While they all have their own vibe and highlight different aspects of the book, I think they all really work. The cover on the left is quite mature, quite sophisticated and, to me, looks more like a traditional book set during WWII. The middle cover is the one which I have and I love it. It is whimsical yet also dark due to the image of Death holding the young girls hand. The cover on the right, for me, has the most impact and is the most melancholy. The blood splatters and silhouette of a dark mysterious figure are a nod towards the Death who narrates the novel. I really love them all.

Plot Synopsis
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. The narrator of the story,Death, has never been busier, and will be busier still. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals 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 Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

My Rating
First Lines:
'First the colours. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact: You are going to die.'

When Sirius Black fell through THAT veil, I never thought I'd be that upset by a book again. Surely no book could make me sob and feel as though the main character's pain and grief was my own? But it has happened again.

'The Book Thief' is so lovely and so terrible at once. I sobbed until I couldn't breathe and had to put it down to compose myself. This went on for 75 pages...I counted. It is special.

I don't know where to start talking about it. The characters are understated and their actions throughout their book are what determines their character rather than any input from the narrator. Rudy, from his candlelight hair the colour of lemons to his lopsided smiling lips asking for kisses, is joyfulness and vitality all over. Papa, and his wrinkles that creased like an accordion, is kindness when being kind is what kills you. And Liesel. She doesn't know how much she means to the people around her and how much hope she injects into their miserable lives. Death is a brilliant narrator. He is involved, insightful and moving. If this aspect puts you off the book don't let it! It is a unique narration and a beautiful one.

The stories intersected into the main story (largely coming from Max) are simple and sweet on the surface yet feel so meaningful. Which brings me on to the history which brings this novel to life: WWII and the Holocaust. I have fairly recently read the 'Maus' graphic novels by Art Speigelman and I think that having previously read those made this novel even more poignant for me. Put simply, 'Maus' is the collected recollections of a Jewish man (the author's father) of what he and his family went through during the Holocaust and, in my opinion, it is the most brutal, terrible, unapologetic depiction of what the Jews endured during that time that I have ever read and it really made me properly and thoroughly consider how their lives must have been. To be so suddenly despised and feared and helpless and unable to save yourself or your family from the most horrifying situation inflicted on you by your own neighbours, your own is so hard to comprehend. To be shuttled around for days inside tiny cattle wagons in boiling heat or freezing cold, no food or water, the corpses rising all the time, the human waste and rotting bodies the only bed you can lie on...that was a reality for them. I think that because of 'Maus' I was even more concerned for Max's (the Jew who the family hides) safety, and constantly dreaded his discovery. Later, when Liesel runs amongst the Jews, I was a mess because it's so heart breaking and so powerful and you just want someone do something, to say something, anything, stop them, stop the Holocaust from ever happening, stop it from having to be a child who finally shows love and compassion for people who never did anything wrong but live in the wrong country at the wrong time.

As with this whole book, Death (the narrator) constantly flashes forward and forewarns us about who will die and how, we always know how it ends but we still will it not to happen; you still find yourself hoping that, somehow, they will all live. Which represents, for me, how I feel every time I read a book about the Holocaust; I wish and hope and secretly believe that this time it might not happen but it always does. Humans are always cruel and people always die.

Other Thoughts
This Book has Inspired me to Read: I would like to read 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' now in order to compare the two books. I have read awful reviews about the historical inaccuracies and potential Nazi sympathising of 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' so I would really like to see for myself.

Quotes I Liked From the Book:
'It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on...'
 'The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.'
Three Words to Describe this Novel: Beautiful. Melancholy. Heart-Breaking.


  1. I am SO glad this one resonated with you. It absolutely did the same to me. In fact, I had to go buy more copies to pass out, and I now teach it in my writing and lit courses.

    The narrator (which I know some hate) made this book for me.

    1. I know I love Death (not something I say everyday!) It is a fantastic book- I have only ever heard good things about it really. That's awesome that you teach it- spreading the word! x

  2. Hi, I am following you from Book Blogs. Love your blog.

    1. Thank you for following me! I have returned the favour and follow your blog- I love it's name! Parchment is a lovely word! x

  3. I love this review! I felt the exact same way! I read this book two Easters ago at a ranch in the Texas countryside and I sobbed when I was finished!

    Also, I love the way you structure your reviews. If it's okay, I may borrow the idea of adding quotes that you like and other books this inspired you to read. You have created such a compulsively readable and interesting blog!

    1. Thank you so much- this is such a lovely comment! I sobbed as well, it's so sad but at the same time really wonderful.

      Of course you can include those elements in your reviews! I don't have the copyright on them...yet :-P

      I hope to speak to you again soon! Anna x

  4. Hello, just over from Book Blogs and following your blog.
    I really enjoyed your review and have added the book thief to my TBR pile.

    1. I'm really glad you liked my review! I hope you get around to reading it soon- it is very lovely!

      I have returned the favour and now follow your blog! It's very nice over there! x

  5. Normally this book wouldn't be my type of thing but I ended up reading it for a YA lit class I was taking. SOOOO glad I read it. It's just incredibly and well written. I'm glad you liked it! Great review. :)

    Alison at The Cheap Reader

    1. I am so glad you like the book! To be honest, when I had seen it in shops I hadn't bothered to look at it properly, but then I looked it up on goodreads and saw that it had had an overwhelmingly positive response on there so I thought I'd give it a go. And I was so glad I did too! x

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