Jason's Reviews > The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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Apr 17, 2011

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bookshelves: for-kindle, wine-club, 2012, reviewed

I write this review under severe duress.

Three-star books are always difficult to review, aren’t they? They are difficult for me, mostly because I am so dispassionate about them. It’s much easier to review something you love, or something you hate, rather than something you’ve half-forgotten before you even get to your local library’s return box.

So this book is fine. Fine. It’s the story of a young German girl caught in the path of the advancing Nazi regime during World War II. For many German villagers in the late 30s and early 40s, the Third Reich was like a quiet glacier, slowly encroaching on their lives—it moved languidly enough that disaster seemed never truly imminent (there is always plenty of time to get out of the way), yet it had enough momentum to churn to pulp anything that was unfortunate enough to meet its frothing jaws.

What annoyed me about this book, however, was its distracting style of storytelling. It is told from the point-of-view of the Grim Reaper, the personification of death. I would have actually been okay with this except Death is a grating little sonofabitch. He pretends to keep a distance from the German girl whose story he’s telling, representing himself as a disinterested party whose job is simply to harvest souls from their lifeless hosts, but over time he becomes clearly vested in her story, and for this he is a failure. I mean, if death and taxes are the only two things I can count on, and the IRS is a bullshit government arm that can’t find its asshole with a flashlight, then I need to be able to depend on Death not being a loser.

Additionally, I specifically detested the
* * * Things That Irritate Me * * *
1. These interjections.
2. Interjections like these.

interjections, which occur frequently in this novel.

That said, I think this book is important for its one shining success, which is to remind us that civilian populations of even aggressor countries are innocent victims. Try to keep this in mind the next time your idiot friend says something like, “Dude, we should totally just bomb the fuck out of [insert Middle Eastern country here].”

My cousin told me I had to review this book or she would sic the Andover Ladies of Literature on me and I do not wish to scuffle with those broads.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 85) (85 new)


Jeanne Look forward to your review on this one. I downloaded a sample months a ago and it just didn't grab me off the bat but it is still on my "to read" list.


Jason I don't feel strongly enough about this book to review it. Plus everyone else loved it so I'd basically be making enemies.


Jenn(ifer) I did not love it! You wouldn't make an enemy of me.


Jason Ha! Yes, I noticed that. But you blamed Bolaño; I blame Zusak.


Jenn(ifer) I blame Jay Rubin!


Jason Why you make Zusak write overrated book, Jay Rubin??!


Jenn(ifer) you should read my friend's review. so funny: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


Jason Awesome.


message 9: by Stephen M (new) - added it

Stephen M Jay Rubin, why you squander great premise with mediocre book?!?!?


Jeanne Well this book as just slipped very low on my "to read" list! Maybe I will just boot it off the list entirely.


Janice but jason, you love to make enemies!


Jason Janice: true. I will reconsider. :D


Janice excellent!


Daniel I just gave this one 5 stars but I can't say I fully "enjoyed" reading it. Don't get me wrong, I think it was well written. I guess books like this aren't supposed to be heartwarming.


message 15: by David (new)

David Morais, this review was so good it made my nipples hard.


message 16: by Sarah (last edited Sep 28, 2012 03:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah I love, love, love this book. I have such a hard-on for Zusak I'd read anything he writes: grocery list, novel, or otherwise. I'm going to Chicago next month to attend the One Book, One Chicago festival which is honoring The Book Thief this year and seeing the stage adaptation at the Steppenwolf. If I'm able to get in to see any of Zusak's talks, I might just throw my panties at him. And while that may seem like it would bias me in favor of this book, that isn't the case. I don't love this book because I love Markus Zusak. I love Markus Zusak because I love this book.

As for Death, I think it's interesting that Death is characterized differently in this book than you'd traditionally see. Zusak said that he got the idea from the sentiment that death and war are BFFs. What if Death wasn't a malevolent character? What if death were a tired, burnt-out, middle-aged, paunchy, balding man who was sick of his job but never, ever got a vacation? (I'm paraphrasing, of course.) I like that concept a lot.

What I loved about this book was that there were moments of pure beauty in the midst of such horror. The scene where the prisoners are being marched through the town and one kindly soul braves the soldiers' wrath to give an old prisoner a piece of bread was very moving to me (and, as it turns out, inspired by an actual event witnessed by one of Zusak's parents).

I do agree, though, that writing a review of a 3-star book is hard.


Nataliya That said, I think this book is important for its one shining success, which is to remind us that civilian populations of even aggressor countries are innocent victims. Try to keep this in mind the next time your idiot friend says something like, “Dude, we should totally just bomb the fuck out of [insert Middle Eastern country here].

Love it. Love it. Love it.


message 18: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I was going to quote the same passage, Nataliya.

I was disturbed last year when my 2nd-grader nephew's take away from the introduction to WWII in school was that we should kill all the Germans because they're Nazis. I'm sure (well, mostly sure) that the teacher wasn't trying to make that point, but you have to be careful how you teach history!


Nataliya Wow, Miriam, that is just unbelievable.


message 20: by Miriam (new)

Miriam He was especially confused because my boyfriend (whom he has known since toddlerhood) is German. He asked, "But can we let Miriam's German live? He's okay, right?"


message 21: by Genine (new) - added it

Genine Franklin-Clark Well, damn, I have this book on one of my bookshelves. Now, I'm not looking forward to reading it so much. I will read it, just not as enthusiastically. Will I love it? Will I hate it? Will I damn it with faint-three-star praise?


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" "Death is a grating little sonofabitch."

It's been a long time since I read it, but as I recall, sometimes Death seemed almost gleeful at what was happening. In that sense, I'd have to agree that he was grating.


message 23: by Jonathan (last edited Sep 29, 2012 12:59AM) (new)

Jonathan Peto Jason wrote: " Try to keep this in mind the next time your idiot friend says something like, “Dude, we should totally just bomb the fuck out of [insert Middle Eastern country here]." "

I can't remember whether the person was a friend or not, but I remember someone even wanting to bomb Canada.

On another note: Does anyone know of anyone succeeding at personifying Death, except maybe Monty Pythons? (I think they did if memory serves.)


Jason Sorry, I didn't see any of these. Thanks for all the comments!


Jonathan There have been interesting comic versions (like Pratchet's) of death but not good enough still for me. Maybe I should write about death as a character...


Jason Are you a writer, er, Jonathan who posted most recently?


Jonathan I dabble...I have all these story plans and thoughts and hope to one day get them onto paper or as pixels on a magical screen in someone's hand.


message 28: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto Beware writing about death as a character. That may be folly.


Jonathan I may kill that character off.
It certainly is deadly writing about death properly in a serious way.


Jason You guys kill me.


message 31: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto Jonathan wrote: "I may kill that character off."

Great idea!


message 32: by Miriam (new)

Miriam What's that folktale about the guy who catches Death in a sack?


message 33: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Yeah! Although I think I read it by another name...
Interesting site, that.


Nataliya Jonathan wrote: "There have been interesting comic versions (like Pratchet's) of death but not good enough still for me. Maybe I should write about death as a character..."

Have you looked at Saramago's Death with Interruptions? He has an interesting take on the character.


message 36: by s.p (new)

s.p Nataliya wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "There have been interesting comic versions (like Pratchet's) of death but not good enough still for me. Maybe I should write about death as a character..."

Have you looked at Sara..."


I second that recommendation! Great version of Death.


message 37: by s.p (last edited Sep 29, 2012 06:11PM) (new)

s.p Great review Jason, this one has made sure I'll continue to pass it up for awhile more now. I did like how you properly show the good and the bad for this book though, it allows for a well rounded perspective on the novel.

Have I mentioned your reviews are ace?

It's funny, when this book first came out I was living in crippling college student poverty and would, shamefully, rob the bookstore just off campus fricken blind (a big sorry to any bookstore workers! older me feels shame for past me) of all their Faulkner and Dostoyevsky (the arrogance of youth). Then one day this book appeared ALL OVER THE STORE, and I felt overwhelming guilt and stopped. My 19yr old mind decided this book was out to get me -
Dude, we should totally bomb the fuck out of this book - so I refused to read it despite so many people saying 'best book eva!'.

Interjections suck. Your review is awesome.


Jason Leave it to you, Steve, to represent the new generation of teenage riff raff that goes around lifting Faulkner and Dostoyevsky instead of getting high and making out behind the high school bleachers. I love it.

And no, I can not see you enjoying this book.


Jason P.S. Thanks for the compliment. It's really nice of you to say. :)


message 40: by Sarah (last edited Sep 29, 2012 04:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah My copy of this book was, ironically, stolen. Possibly the person who stole it thought they were being funny. My only hope is that they read it.


Melanie Good job Jason. You're safe from those Andover Ladies...for now. =)


message 42: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Don't you know you're only supposed to steal books from your friends, spenk?


message 43: by s.p (last edited Sep 29, 2012 06:11PM) (new)

s.p Jason wrote: "Leave it to you, Steve, to represent the new generation of teenage riff raff that goes around lifting Faulkner and Dostoyevsky instead of getting high and making out behind the high school bleacher..."

Ha, the beginning of Savage Detectives made me cringe slightly when he is lifting books from all the stores around. Sorry to any bookstore workers,I have thus been cursed for such follies to become horribly addicted to books and spending countless dollars instead now. Oh, but I did try to do my fair share of making out behind school bleachers though. Try.


Jonathan s.penkevich wrote: "Jason wrote: "Leave it to you, Steve, to represent the new generation of teenage riff raff that goes around lifting Faulkner and Dostoyevsky instead of getting high and making out behind the high s..."

Well would love this book because it is 'the best book eva' and totally better than Life of Pi (or not). Well anyway I think you'd sort of enjoy it in a kind of honorary three stars kind of way. Perhaps...


message 45: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto Abbie wrote: "I also think that Death kind of says that he is disappointed in himself for being vested in this girl, i think it was a departure for him, and it bothered him. I kind of liked that admission. :) "

I can see how that is appealing.


Jason My girl's wicked smaht.


karen why do i miss all your reviews?


Jason Well, I have thought about this extensively! And it is either because:

a) I bore the ever living shit out of you and you secretly hope I will go away;
b) you have removed me from your 'top friends' because I am an annoying newbie troll;
or c) you only missed those three by coincidence of me posting them at inopportune karen-times.

(I bet it's a or b, amiright?!)


Jason And what happened to the pumpkins?? I bet you are trying to be particularly classy. It's tough work but somebody's gotta do it.


karen ha! i think it is d) karen has too many "top friends" that are teenage girls into posting every little thing they do in their roleplay groups and seriously needs to weed that shit and only have jason as a top friend.


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