The Book Thief

Sunday, September 26, 2010

This book surprised me.

I had heard of it from several people, but I didn't know anything about it except that it was narrated by Death. I wasn't sure what to think of that. And the first few pages, I wasn't sure how I liked "Death"'s voice. It seemed flippant, immature even. But after those first uncertain pages, I was hooked, much like Death was hooked, on the Book Thief's life. And once I got used to Death, I liked him - liked the stark, simple, and unforgivingly honest images he used to describe his observations and actions at the margins between life and death.

This story is about a German girl in World War II. But it isn't quite that simple. Yes, you get the Hitler Youth uniforms and the harrowing descriptions of the treatment of the Jews. You get the bomb raids and the constant death and the militant, robotic youth. But you also get German children throwing bread to the Jews as they march. You get a glimpse of the privations the Germans went through, from coffee to their family members (all in the name of serving the Fuhrer, of course). And of course, you get book stealing. I'll let you read the book to find out how that comes into play.

So back to my love-hate relationship with Death's voice. One thing I quickly grew to love about this book was the way Death inserts little anecdotes and facts into the text. Example: He is describing a situation with the main character, Liesel, and a boy she meets, and suddenly this little announcement is inserted into the text:

A boy who loves you.

It is kind of trendy to have "abstractness" in books, I have been noticing - random things like those little anecdotal inserts, or weird drawings, or a strange point of view (like Death narrating the story). But in this book it wasn't tacky - it worked.

I loved the way Death gave the images in perfect detail but left you to feel the emotions of them. For example: "Her mouth jittered. Her cold arms were folded. Tears were frozen to the book thief's face" (pg. 8). Or (a happier image) "In the basement, when she wrote about her life, Liesel vowed that she would never drink champagne again, for it would never taste as good as it did on that warm afternoon in July" (357).

Death also gave longer, more developed images that I couldn't get out of my mind - a woman sleeping, bent over an accordion. A boy painting himself black and reenacting an Olympic race. A fistfighter defeating Hitler in an imagined fighting match, only to have Hitler call the audience back to fight him, yelling, "Can you see that this enemy has found its ways - its despicable ways - through our armor, and that clearly, I cannot stand up here alone and fight him? [...] Will you climb in here so that we can defeat this enemy together?" (254). That held my attention more than any translation of Hitler's words ever could. Wasn't that really what gave him his power - his words, his ability to convince people that not only was he smart, but he was morally correct? That imagined scene brought me closer to that than any history book ever could.

This book is raw. It is different. It will pull you in and not let you forget its characters. You may find yourself mentally arguing with Death sometimes. But I think you will end up enjoying his story, even if he bugs you at the beginning. 5 out of 5 stars. Buy this book. Highlight it, think about it, loan it to your friends, and read it again.


  1. Thank you so mush for the review. This book was one of the five books I'm trying to choose from to read after the long fantasy I'm reading right now (The Big Hunt by Robert Jordan). Turkish translation of The Book Thief has not been promoted well in Turkey. When I received the book last week, my friends were surprised to discover there was such a book on sale. Thanks to book blogging world, I'm a step ahead.

  2. I loved The Book Thief! It's been a while since I read it, though, and I've been meaning to get back to it since...

    Great review! :)

  3. I loved this book - absolutely adored it! It made me so sad, though. Such a meaningful book.


  4. I seriously need to read this one again. It was intensely amazing and I thought giving Death the narration of WWII was brilliant and added an additional level to the story that just made everything click, made everything perfect. It's a book that stays with you, and the more time passes for me on this one, the more I love it.

  5. So true. This book was so risky, too - it could have totally flopped. It was amazing hearing Markus Zusak read aloud from it - he almost started crying. I Am the Messenger is one of my upcoming books on the TBR and I'm hoping that it is just as good (my husband liked it better, so we'll see!)


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