Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak

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. . . .

Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist- books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever they are to be found. 
With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel 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.

Why I read it: I saw this highly recommended on someone’s blog (yes, that was you, Evie) and on my next trip to the library it just happened to be on the shelf. Thanks to a computer error (there were actually 9 holds on it!) I checked it out on one-week loan.

What I liked: The writing is just beautiful. Not usual, not even that easy to read after awhile, but it’s lovely. The descriptions are all so unique and fresh. I know some people have mocked them for being a little ridiculous, but I always felt they were perfect. It’s high time we moved away from the cliché ‘night black as ink’ and got some fresh perspective, like ‘a chocolate coloured sky’ or ‘hair the colour of lemons’. Colour plays a huge role in the story.

The cast of characters in this book was impressively managed. There’s the MC, Leisel, her foster parents, her ‘boyfriend’, the Jew they’re hiding in their basement and a number of other inhabitants on Himmel Street. I loved how each of these MCs had such complex personalities. Her foster mother swears like a sailor, but there are one or two scenes where her soft side shows. Even the minor characters have unique characteristics. Since their names were all German I had difficulty remembering which name belonged to which person, but I never go the people themselves mixed up.

What I disliked: This book has no plot. The story is set in WW2 Germany, so there’s a lot of war stuff happens, like them getting poorer and poorer, bombs falling, hiding a Jew in their basement… etc… It’s a nice historical portrait, but there was nothing really propelling it forward. At the time I was looking for a book that I just couldn’t put down, but this book didn’t do it.

This isn’t exactly a dislike, but the book is narrated by Death. At times it worked, but other times it just felt strange and jarring. At the end it all made sense and Death’s narration was kind of cool, but for most of the story I thought it would have been better with a normal omniscient narrator.

From a Christian Perspective: There’s no sexual content in this book because there’s very little romance (something I found refreshing after so many other YA novels). The biggest issue with this book is the swearing. There’s swearing in German on pretty much every page, and God’s name is taken in vain regularly, especially towards the end. The MC is, as the title implies, a ‘book thief’ and she goes on several stealing expedition, and it’s never really made clear that this is wrong.

To buy or not to buy: I personally won’t be buying this book because I only buy books that I’m absolutely in love with. The three star rating is because I didn't care for it that much. However, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves words. It’s not really a story… more of a work of art. 


  1. I loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee this book.
    and actually, your dislikes were some of my favorite things. xD But oh well. To each his(her) own.

  2. Hello! I found your blog because I was searching for a Christian perspective on this book. From one Christian to another... do you think there was anything especially edifying that would make this book a good read? Also, was the swearing that was in German understandable... could you tell what they were trying to say?

    Thank you!

  3. This book came to me with rave reviews and I was hesitant to read it because I didn't want it to be "too deep." The book started out strong, but I found myself trying to get through the middle so I could find out the ending of the book.