Joy's Reviews > The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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Oct 01, 12

bookshelves: biotech-book-club
Read from September 07 to 12, 2012

This was our book club pick for September, and the first thing that jumped out at me that was a surprise is that this is a book about WWII in Germany with Nazis. I hadn't read the book blurb, so hopefully it is mentioned there, but it was an unexpected way to start the book.

Liesel is a young girl growing up in Germany before and during WWII, with some differences including a mother who gave her up, a brother who died on the trip to take her to her new home, a possibly Communist (but absent) father, and adoptive parents that are odd in their own ways. Liesel copes with some of the stresses she is under by stealing books, starting with the undertaker's book from the man who buried her young brother in a wintry graveyard. Her adoptive father teaches her to read from that book, and so her fascination with books and how to acquire them is born - and the censorship of Nazy Germany only feeds her obsession. Despite all of that, Liesel's story in this novel is encompassed and illustrated by only a handful of books, which yet are the world to her.

Growing up in this poor neighborhood is a life and a side of Nazy Germany that I haven't seen depicted before, where even good blond "Aryan" children are hungry and steal food from orchards just to survive and help their families. Liesel's adoptive father has morals that don't agree with the Nazi party line, which causes his business and later his person to suffer at the hands of those in power. Her friend Rudy has big dreams, is a major admirer of Jesse Owens the Olympic runner (and black man), and has morals and ideals of his own which also lead to difficulties in his life. Finally, Liesel's parents shelter a Jewish man from discovery, which brings another element into the story and may have had the greatest impact on young Liesel's life even with all of the other events which she witnesses.

The writing was very smooth and good, although the use of Death as an omniscient narrator (and the one who gives Liesel the title of the Book Thief) was odd at first and jarring for a while. Death's interjections and asides flowed more smoothly as the book progressed, and I think the first few chapters could've been rewritten to add this smoothness into the beginning of the novel, unless that jarring was intentional (and I found it annoying, so hopefully not). One odd thing is that at the very beginning of the novel, a big deal is made of color - the colors of Liesel's books, the colors that Death associates with each soul he picks up - and yet this concept is dropped rapidly and is never explored or resolved further. It would have been better to not have this emphasis on color just to let it drift away, in my opinion.

I did enjoy the book and I'm glad I read it, and the overall story is interesting if not comfortable to read. It does present some interesting views, especially about the morality of a child and particularly that of a child growing up in Nazi Germany, and I think those are valuable. Overall, this book is a good read but be forewarned it's not going to be the most entertaining one.
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