Kat Kennedy's Reviews > The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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Jan 14, 14

bookshelves: contemporary-fiction, i-learned-something-new, kat-s-book-reviews, australian-writer
Recommended for: People into self-flagellation
Read from July 18 to 19, 2010

Just to clarify: Yes, I did cry.

I've read a lot of positive and negative reviews for this book. I can see why people wouldn't like it - I really can. Perhaps because I took a lot out of it personally, I found I enjoyed it a lot.

Quick test to see if you'll like this book:

1. Did you like Anne of Green Gables?
2. Can you cope with an off-beat, melancholy, caustic, dead-pan, self-righteous narrator?
3. Do you like words?
(Questions 4-8 were all about what kind of underwear you're wearing so don't worry about them).

So, let's all gather around for story time with Mistress Kat.

Two incidents set me off lately.

1. My neighbour came to me and complained about the Islanders (for those not Australian: the Tongan, Fiji, Papa New Guinea and New Zealand populations of Australia) causing trouble and otherwise defiling our great and beautiful nation.
2. I was tooling around on Facebook when I noticed one of my friends (one of those friends you’ve never met except in an internet community) hosting a link to a video of a speech from a man addressing the American people. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he is reminiscent of a neo-Hitler but let’s just say that the comparison would not be wholly unearned. Her comments on the video were that: everything he’d said was right, it was time that people sat up and listened for the sake of their country and that it’s about time “somebody did something”. (Fuck me, I’ve heard this phrase so many times. What is it exactly that they’re referring to? Do they actually know? I’ve yet to hear them pronounce what this “something” is or what it looks like. Is there some plan that I’m not aware of that they’re referring to? Does it involve chipmunks, honey and tequila?)

To my neighbour, I simply mumbled that I had to leave and got in my car. I was offended on behalf of my friends so I blew him off and I haven’t really spoken to him since. To my Facebook friend, I resisted the urge to make any comments. I debated about starting a fight that would, in all likelihood, spill over to our community. In the end I ignored her and I haven’t spoken to her since.

The Book Thief is not your typical WWII story. It doesn’t even ask you to sympathize with the Jews. Their plight is background to the story and their struggles and pains are rarely shown except through the pitiful/beautiful character of Max. This story actually focuses on the bad guys. Zusak assumes that you know about the struggle and the plight of the Jews. He assumes that you feel for them, that you are horrified on their behalf and so he doesn’t spend much time eliciting an emotion that you are expected to have.

Instead it focuses on the BAD guys. You get to know and live the lives of a small and poor town in Germany. The thing is, though, that these aren’t really the bad guys. Zusak, probably rightly, assumes that we’d never be able to really empathize and enjoy reading a book about characters truly bad. They’re not really bad. After all, they may be Germans and they may have escaped persecution and death, but they’re still poor. They’re the tiny fraction of the German population who sympathizes with the Jews. They harbour a Jewish man in their home and come to love him. The thing is though that for most of the novel, they’re not the good guys either. They don’t speak up for the Jewish people, they don’t try to change popular opinion, they don’t stand for what’s right. They quietly try to get by without causing waves and without risking much of themselves.

So you can see how I would sympathize. How could I think that I’m one of the “good guys” when I don’t stand up for people either? Shouldn’t I have challenged my neighbour and asked how he knew that the Islanders were to blame for all the crime? Shouldn’t I have asked him how many Islanders he knew? How he could make such assumptions about people? Shouldn’t I have challenged my facebook friend? Shouldn’t I have asked her why she’s spreading propaganda? Couldn’t I have probed her to think critically about this man’s claims, about facts and ethics?

No. I didn’t want to cause problems and I didn’t want to make waves.

The narrator of The Book Thief makes a claim that Hitler’s took over a country and started a war – not with guns or weapons but with words. I’ve read others consider this claim to be stupid and ridiculous but I actually agree with him.

When I was a child I asked my Great Aunt Nell why she insisted on engaging me in long and tedious hypothetical debates about morality, human nature, ethics and theology. Her response was always the same: if you don’t fill a child’s head with all the right stuff, someone will come along and fill it with all the wrong stuff. It’s kind of like those corny motivational quotes that the teachers post in their rooms: Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.

Well, I agree. When you don’t educate people, when you don’t teach them to think critically, with full understanding and proper knowledge, then other people come along and whisper in their ear and fill their heads up with mindless rot. Hitler told the German people how to think. He told them who was Wrong. Why they were Wrong. How to fix the Wrong. What was Right. Then he did the most powerful thing a person could do: he told them a story. When you tell a whole nation a story about the future – a gloriously bright future with Plenty and Joy; a future in which they are redeemed and have conquered their enemies; a future in which they are happy and Everything Is As It Should Be – and if you tell that story well enough, then you can conquer a country and wage a war without ever firing a single bullet.

Coincidently when you don’t speak up, when you don’t proclaim the truth, when you’re too afraid to replace ignorance with knowledge then you’re no better than an accomplice to a crime. I can’t imagine how my friends would feel if they’d known that I stood by and allowed them and their family and children to be slandered like that. Pretty appalled, I imagine – and rightfully so.

And now we come to the big reason why I think a lot of people didn’t like this book – the narrator.

The Hunger Games did a similar thing to The Book Thief. It sought to instil in its readers a sense of proper shame. However, as opposed to The Book Thief, you didn’t feel judged. After all, for the Sins that The Hunger Games was preaching of, we’re all guilty – and in our combined guilt there seems to be a lessening of accountability. Perhaps there’s a sense that we’re all going down together. When we’re damned, at least we’ll have good company, right? The Book Thief, however, singles you out as solely responsible. It strips you naked and looks down on you as it asks you to account of yourself. Not even the narrator can sympathize with you because he is the only one left blameless and innocent, looking upon us with a reserved kind of pity and bewilderment.

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. I don’t mind being stripped down. I don’t mind being reprimanded and so I loved this book. I loved this book for inspiring me to be even more outlandishly outspoken and persistently and doggedly forthcoming on my opinions of these issues. I loved this book because I loved the narrator. I loved this book because I loved the story.

I loved this book because I now have the PERFECT excuse to start a helluva lot more fights.

For some reason, that thought makes me very happy.

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Reading Progress

07/18/2010 page 176
32.0% "oh my goodness, I adore this book!"

Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

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Kat Kennedy Wait - I thought the narrator was death... is it really someone else?


message 2: by Tammy (new) - added it

Tammy Walton Grant Don't tell us, don't tell us!!!! This book is on my tbr, but I haven't picked it up yet.

Hi Kat, look forward to reading your review.


Kat Kennedy It's all good, Tammy! I think you might like this one. Depends...


message 4: by Tammy (new) - added it

Tammy Walton Grant Excellent review, as always, Kat. Thank you!


message 5: by AH (new) - added it

AH Wow...What a great review. I was wondering how you would go from Islanders to Germany. Well done.


message 6: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Great review, Kat. I know I should have read this book years ago. It is my hubby's favorite too.


message 7: by Laura Lulu (last edited Jul 22, 2010 12:49PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura Lulu I loved this book and I loved your review. I actually teared up a bit when you talked about how if you don't fill a child's head with the right stuff, someone will come along and fill it with the wrong stuff. So, so true.

I couldn't agree more with your review, and this book affected me much the same as it did you. The ideas you touched on reminded me of the quote "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." I too think I'm a "good guy", but then I do nothing and write off people spouting ignorant nonsense as just that--silly ignorant people. But silly ignorant people are easy to exploit--fill them with fear and then tell them how you are going to fix it, you are going to make them safe. Those silly ignorant people will follow you anywhere. Your own little mindless zombie army. *shivers*


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, great review Kat. Very insightful.


Wicked Incognito Now Touching review Kat.


message 10: by Tilden (new) - added it

Tilden I live in the US and the Republican primaries have started. for the past year the news have focused on all these right wing, evangelical candidates. I hear what they are saying and I think to myself, "how can anyone take these people seriously?". They sound like absolute idiots and spew hate and fear. I can see why Hitler took over Germany. Tell lies. Over and over again, create a scape goat (in the US it's Muslims) and people will follow like sheep. It's happening in the US as I write this. Scary. I will read this book. More folks need to speak up.


Wicked Incognito Now I thought the unions were the current scapegoats?


Barbara (VampAngel) Fuck me gently with a chainsaw. This is a hell of a review.

I'll be starting this book tonight, after Daughter of Smoke and Bone I just can't face a weak book so I think this is a great choice.


message 13: by Terry (new) - added it

Terry Fantastic review. Your honesty and insight is truly amazing. I bought this book today I hope it empowers me as much as it appears to have empowered you. Your aunt sounds like a smart lady


message 14: by Nilesh (new)

Nilesh Kashyap Great review Kat.
Facebook is a platform, that is providing chance to people to express themselve. It has good side as well as bad side, I have read views (updates) that would deeply hurt my sentiments and were so narrow minded that, I would get disturbed but I refrained myself from commenting because I would end up venting my anger in every wrong way and with wrong words. So I stopped using facebook, except for some occasional visit. It really hurts to see people can get influenced so easily.


message 15: by Caroline (new) - added it

Caroline I am going to get it. I love your review. I love the strong way you put your point across:-)


Chris Donaldson I'm new to this group and read 'The Book Thief' because it was the current book. Well, I'm so glad I joined. It was a great book and I LOVED your review. It's everything I thought of and so much more articulate than I could have been. Thank you.


Bonnie Brandt Loved your review...and your Great Aunt Nell!


Marion Good review Kat. I am still reading but enjoying the book a lot. Loved your insight into your neighbour and fb friend.


Samantha This is a beautiful review. Absolutely beautiful.


Danielle Kat- this is a very beautiful, very POWERFUL review! I'm almost about to grab the book off of my bookshelf, but I don't know if I'm emotionally ready! Bravo! :)


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, you are good at reviews. Had this book recommended to me, am definitely reading it now. Continue reviewing!


David Griffiths Wow, really enjoyed reading that review.


message 23: by Tandie (new) - added it

Tandie Wonderful review Kat! I think that sometimes you need to take a stand (maybe your kids are listening or the person making the offensive statement is a big part of your life) and sometimes you just walk away & just stop associating with a person. Your comments made me stop & think about how being passive is sometimes just taking the easy way. Love your review!


message 24: by Janie (new) - added it

Janie I smiled through your review which I very much enjoyed reading. I was all set to read this book (movie is coming out in a month) and I found I could not get in to it due to how it is written. After reading your review, it leaves me curious. I will read this book. Thank you for your review. So, now a few years later, are you speaking out? Has it changed you?


Kat Kennedy Janie,

Yes. Honestly, I never forgot the lesson. When I'm around people saying any kind of bigoted thing, I always take the time to politely (as much as I can) question their thinking and challenge them.


message 26: by Cata (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cata Chacón My favorite review so far! I agree with all you said, that is how I felt while reading. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Danielle This was a great review. Thank you so much.


message 28: by Smileyjulie (new) - added it

Smileyjulie Wow your review was amazing! You ever considered writing??


Kat Kennedy Yes. And then I curl up into a corner and cry myself to sleep.


Kylie Thank you for writing such an amazing and honest review. I'm about to read this book and can't wait!


Kat Kennedy Hope you enjoy it!


Jennifer King Great review! I definitely agree with your description of the book dressing us down, reprimanding us in a way. Singling us out as responsible. Bravo. Thanks for putting into words what I couldn't. I LOVED this book. One of my favorites and I'm not a huge bookworm.


message 33: by Mia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mia Meliaresti What a great review from you! I just like the way you deliver your opinions here. I'm going to share my opinions. Is it okay? For me, the book is really really great. It contains a lot of social values, and it's about war isn't it? And I did cry. So did you lol. I just can't stop crying when Max left Liesel, *sorry for being a spoiler* and when Rudy died. I was like..... Oh my god can't stop crying hahaha. But i can't rate this lovely book with 5 stars. Because I think, there are a lot of parts inside the book that I think they're not important. For me, they're just additions and.... Useless. And well, it definitely takes a lot of time for us to read this book. But, Mr. Zusak did well.


message 34: by Ann (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ann I liked your review FAR MORE than the book~ Thank you.


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