Published by Alfred A. Knopf on 2005
Genres: Historical, Holocaust, Young Adult
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-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 Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time
I am still trying to figure out exactly why The Book Thief was such a big hit and had so much hype surrounding it…
Was it because “Death” was the narrator?
Or because the book was about a girl surviving in Nazi Germany?
Was it because of the hope developed for the longevity of each character?
Or because the book was about a “book thief” and appealed to many readers who related their love for books?
Did the movie help push this hype?
I do not mean to be critical of the book… it was a good book. But I would not place this story on my “top” list.
For those who have not read the book or watched the movie (I’ve only read the book) – the story is about a young girl (aka the book thief aka Liesel) who discovers the power of words as she learns to read with her foster father (Papa) in the basement of their house in Nazi Germany. The book provoked many emotions: fear, hope, love… The author introduced a range of characters who all played a role in Liesel’s love for reading and stealing: Papa and Mama (Liesel’s foster parents), the Mayor’s wife (a silent agent), Rudy (the mischievous boy-next-door), and Max (the Jewish hide-away).
While I did connect with the character of Papa, I found it hard to become emotionally attached to the other characters in the story (including Liesel). I’m not sure if this is because I felt the book dragged out at times, or if it was because the character development in general could have used more support. Having the story narrated by Death was a unique aspect to the book, however, I found Death’s voice was lost at times. It felt as though the author would get so into the story, the narrator was drowned out and then all of a sudden remembered and thrown back in. I understand it was probably hard to keep up with the constant voice and perspective of Death… maybe this was another aspect of the book that kept me from connecting with the characters (or maybe because having a narrator like Death causes me to anticipate the worst and, therefore, not want to connect with a character who may meet Death sooner than later).
A couple of questions I had and would love others’ insights:
- Why did Liesel’s mother leave her with foster parents? At one point in the book the author noted Liesel had the “wrong color eyes” to be living in Nazi Germany at the time, but this never came back into play in the book… was this meant to infer her mother was Jewish?
- Was there any significance to Death noting the color of the skies whenever a soul passed? While this helped the reader identify Death as the narrator, I found it distracting from the story since I could not identify a purpose for the color references…
Overall, I found the book to be an easy read (one that I could pick up or put down whenever, which made it ideal for my metro commute). The author was clear in his writing style, and again, I loved the unique approach to the narrator of the story. The concept of a girl stealing books was well thought out and carried on throughout the book (although she could have stolen at least one or two more books to be worthy of the name “book thief”). The book, however, was not a quick read and did take me some time to finish. I would recommend this book for those interested in historical fiction or looking for a book club read. However, I was not sold on the hype and “must read list” others have placed this book in.
One last note on the book’s genres: definitely historical fiction; young adult; and a great book club selection. We read this for our November Virginia Wine and Book Club pick… some good conversations developed and questions left unanswered for the pondering.