Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Country: Australia
Year: 2005
Pages: 552
Rating: 5 out of 5

First sentence: First the colors.

From the back cover: It is 1939, Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, adn it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing 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 Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.

What I thought: I can not come up with the words to describe this book that would do it justice. It is that good. It is written from the unique perspective of Death, a wry, frank, and compassionate character who sees moments in shades of color: 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 across the redness. (p.12). We learn how Death comes to know the book thief and her story. It is an emotionally draining read. 

Towards the end, I was reading parts out loud to my daughter when she was fussy, so that I could calm her down and try to finish the book at the same time. I had to stop, I literally could not read the story out loud without crying. 

There is plenty of foreshadow. I know what is going to happen. I know how it is going to end. And I still sobbed through the last few chapters. Yet, a narrative filled with death and despair, one of the overarching themes is that of hope and love. There is so much love in this story, and overflows from the pages to the reader. 

And, always a favorite for bibliophiles, it is very much a story about words: 

She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half. 
Then a chapter.
Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn't be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better. 
What good were the words?
She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. "What good are the words?"(p.521)

I was particularly captured by the story within a story - the writings and illustrations of Max, the Jew hidden in the basement. His short story, The Word Shaker, could easily be a stand alone children's book. The book is marketed as young adult fiction, but is just as enjoyable and meaningful for adults.

Favorite quotes:

For now, Rudy and Liesel made their way onto Himmel Street in the rain.
He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. 
She was the book thief without the words.
Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain. (p. 80)

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. (p.528)

I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold.
And I don't have those skull-like
facial features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I'll help you out. Find yourself
a mirror while I continue.
(p. 307)


Joy said...

I'm so glad you have joined the "Loved The Book Thief Club!" :) It was quite the book.

Eva said...

I loved reading your favourite quotes. :) And I sobbed all the way through the last few chapters too-ridiculous, hiccuping sobs. (And in response to your comment on me and The Translator, while I was reading it, I kept thinking back to The Book Thief!)

beastmomma said...

That sounds like an incredible book!

Anonymous said...

Oh this sounds like a wonderful book! I've put it on my wishlist. I'm glad your little one is doing well! Ethan isn't fully giggling yet but he's smiling big and cooing a lot. He's awake thru most of the day and sleeping mostly thru the night. Doc says he's in the 10th-20th % of babies his age so he is catching up! Talk to you soon!!

Cheryl Gebhart said...

It really was an incredible book - excellent review.

SuziQoregon said...

I loved this book and seeing new people fall in love with it makes me want to read it again. I've made most of my family read it.

Tasha said...

I just read The Book Thief, too. When I sat down with it, I forgot anything else existed. What a wonderful book.

bookinhand said...

This book is not only a great read but also quite an experience to read! Great review! Diane

Nyssaneala said...

joy - I was starting to feel like the only person who hadn't read it!

eva - I had a hard time limiting the quotes to just a few. I could have quoted the whole book!

beastmomma - It is one that definitely lived up to the hype for me. You should check it out!

Nyssaneala said...

kristina - Sounds like you have a good sleeper, that's great! You should definitely check out The Book Thief, but be prepared to sob!

scrappy cat - Thank you!

suziq - I always take pleasure when others enjoy a book just as much as I do. I will also be passing this one on to family and friends.

Nyssaneala said...

charley - It is definitely one of those books where you become completely immersed in its world.

diane - Thanks! I look forward to our discussion over at Bookworms

Iliana said...

Like you said there's plenty of foreshadowing yet the ending still managed to have me in tears. Just sad and overwhelmed. Great review!

She Became a Butterfly said...

i'm not reading what you wrote because i just bought this!!

Andrea said...

I loved this book, too! You're right, words can't even describe how it made me feel. I cried at the end, too. It's one of my all time favorite books now. You are definitely right about it being filled with hope and love. That really was how I felt at the end. Great review!

Marg said...

I really, really loved this book too! Excellent review!

Literary Feline said...

Someday I'll stop reading reviews of this book and read the book itself. :-) I enjoyed reading your review.

Framed said...

I can't remember when a book made me cry the way this one did. One of the best books I've read, I never hesitate to recommend it and haven't met anyone who read it and didn't love it. Thanks so much for reminding of the feeling invoked by this book.

valentina said...

yeah I completely agree, it was such a wonderful book, I'm gonna write my review today hopefully. I sobbed through the last chapters too,and now I'm reccommending it to everyone. For once the hype was well justified:)

Teddy Rose said...

I also loved this book, I gave it 4/5.

Anonymous said...

nobody seems to like the quote about the soldiers running towards death, not toward the other soldiers. i've been searching for it online, so i can have the exact words...and every site i go to never puts it up. it's my favorite quote too. i guess i'm just weird. i'll have to find it in the book and make my own site :) haha.

Meghan said...

I also love that quote about soldiers running at death. It is a beautiful tragic truth.

I also love when Death is talking about catching souls as they plummet over the cliffs at Mauthausen. "'Saved you,' I'd think," he statesas he catches their souls mid-air.

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Anonymous said...

I need help!! We are almost done reading the book in school and i dont get it AT ALL! can some one tell me "how does the author uses foreshadowing to pull the reader in"

email me at

thanks :)

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Unknown said...

I absolutely absolutely loooove this book!
The descriptions are amazing.. & the ending is heartbreaking...
My favorite book by far!

Matt said...

My girlfriend gave me this book for my birthday and it has to be the best book I have ever read. It's the first time I've ever read a book that was so full of every emotion that it made me cry at the end. You become attached to the characters, almost so that you feel you know them. 100/5

Anonymous said...

I've read this book twice. Everytime I've laughed, cried and felt legit emotions. There are books you like, ones you hate; but there are few you truly love. This is one of those books for me. I did a report on it for my honors english class. The report was supposed to be about 3-5 minutes...mine was around 20-25. I just felt I couldn't do it justice with a short, bull crap presentation. So I went above and beyond, a powerpoint, marked pages, handouts with quotes and exerpts from the novel itself; I even burnt a CD with songs that represented the characters and situations. My teacher even said that she wanted to read it even more now than when I told her in the start of the year.
She plans to add it to next years book list, and loads of kids wanted to read it after words. Then one kid who happened to walk in for an errand, had to wait to talk the the teacher. So he just listened to me talk about the book. Then he came up to me and asked about it more, and said that even though he didnt really didnt like books, this one he wanted to read. This is a phenominal book that you have to read, no description really works. :D

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